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  1. I think that brother Mujahid is into arranged marriaged and I am sure there are a lot of sisters in London looking forward to take similar path and I hope you get one muminah insha allah good look
  2. Horn Afrique sis I think dadka waxay C/qaim ka urinayaan xukunkii dhiigyacabka ahaa oo uu 21 sano wasiirka ka ahaa that would explain peopl's scepticism and suspicion of the man
  3. Somalia has seen a centralised democracy, a brutal dictatorship and a prolonged civil war. I think the anly option now is a federal system with a loose central government. My reason is that almost all Somalis have obsessed with one title "THE PRESIDENT" and the solution is to make a very weak president and believe me we will see all these warlords running away from that post. Also the federal system is functioning very well . Look at USA-the greatest economic power today, Germany-greatest economic power in Europe, Malaysa-a thriving economic power in East Asia and UAE-the most prosperous nation in the Gulf Cooperation Council all use federal system
  4. Thanx Hanna for the Poem, Abdulaqadir Hiris YamYama is one of my favourite contemporary poets and I have seen this poem on a book published in Sweden Thanks again Hanna
  5. Is it me or almost all the nomads are claiming to come from Mogadisho what happened to the rest of the country!!! There are 17 other regions in Somalia which I dont see anyone claiming to come from apart from Libaax and Burco-Lady. Anyway not from Xamar but 500 KM its south, KISMAYO The land of valleys, rivers, lakes and beautiful ocean as well as wild animals and attractive scenes. Anyone form there just shout it
  6. First of all let me make a little correction. The word MIDGAAN itself is an unappropriate and prejudice we are still in the wrong path as lond as we keep using it. These people are called MADHIBAN and they prefer to be called what they identify themselves and are happy with therefore it is WRONG to be called a name that is inhumane and degrading themselves. SO let us first correct our language and stop using that word FOREVER! Second, I want to talk about the origins of this segregation and what was the reason behind it. We all know that majority of the Somalis have pastoral roots with the exception of some areas in the south and this word custom came these nomads. When you ask any elderly who firmly believes this form of aparthied and that he/she is higher than MADHIBAN will tell you that one of their forefathers ate a meat of dead animal and therefor all descendants have become MIDGAAN and unmarriable. Is that a good reason? NO-Way because we all know that many Somalis who hail from what is percieved as the biggest clans eat pork and dead meat as well as do all undesirables-do they become MIDGAAN? Their Answer is NO. So thetre is double Standard here which is needed to be addressed by the young generation since we are as brainwashed blindly as our elders and should begin to teach tolerance to the future genretions The MADHIBAAN People We certainly would agree that some of the most intelligent Somalis hail from this clan and a well know personalities who excelled thier fields academically whom I dont want to mention their names hailed from this clan. Lastly I advice to you nomads to stop using the word itself and convey the message to any friend/member of your family and carry on your campaign from there Wasalam
  7. Salam to all, let me give my opinion, I think that there is no region that speaks a perfect "standard" Somali because we all know that in every region you will find some words that are unique to them hence it is not a standard. BUT having said that I believe that the most common Somali that is used by the media and is written is the one that is used by people of NUGAAL VALLEY and its sorroundings such as North East, North West, Hawd and Ogaden. This is due to the fact that most Somali poets were from this area and also first people who made their effort to write Somali script such as the great Osman Yusuf Kenadid who invented the Osmaniya manuscript and his son Yasin who wrote the Somali dictionary were both from that area. On the other issue I want to rais is that every language has a many dialects but there is one chosen as standard. Here in England alone there are many local dialects but still there is one that is recognised as the official and standard English
  8. It is true I think coz this is a new phenomena and s spreading very fast. Sometimes I think that we have become like US where we hear some very scary stories because in the past few weeks whenever I watch local news I hear that there has been a shooting around my area. This problem mainly affects the blck community who began to set up their own American style gangs. The second part is the affect it may have on Somalis. so far there hasn't been a major involvement of Somali youth but certainly there Somali gangs across London but so far I am not aware of any gun battle that involves Somalis
  9. Certainly it was the first time that it snowed in England since I came to this country. The news has been saying also it was the first time for 25 years. Since 1978 there has not been a snow as heavy as this but thank god it is over for the time being but only Allah know whether it will come back
  10. The Islamic Simulacrum in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s Into Africa Thomas E. R. Maguire Into Africa, the BBC/PBS six-part series hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., displays the rich heritage of African society at every corner of the continent. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, Gates failed to enhance popular culture with a revised and radical view of Africa. Instead, he reinforced many of the negative stereotypes of Africa and its diverse culture. This paper deals with the way that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. portrays Islam negatively in a manner similar to the traditional and modern manifestations of Orientalism. Using the concept of simulacrum, as introduced by Jean Baudrillard, I will identify the existence of an “Islamic simulacrum” that functions to vilify the Islamic world through Western media. By “Western media” I refer to the English language media in the United States and the United Kingdom where Into Africa was broadcast. In addition, I will examine the deeply intertwined “postmodern simulacrum” that maintains Orientalism and Western domination through rhetoric of pluralism and tolerance. Due to the obscure and endlessly shifting meaning of “postmodern,” it is necessary to specify that I use the concept as Ahmed S. Akbar defined it in Postmodernism and Islam. I will show the ways that the postmodern simulacrum appropriates marginal discourses within Western society to replace traditional figures of domination in the ongoing process of Orientalism. The body of the paper will systematically identify the ways in which Into Africa functions in the postmodern simulacrum as Afrocentric Orientalism. In a separate critique of Into Africa, Ali Mazrui accused Gates of “Black Orientalism”. I prefer the paradoxical term, “Afrocentric Orientalism”, because it specifically refers to the appropriation of Afrocentricism as a marginal discourse. On that note, the use of this term should not be mistaken as an indictment of that discourse, or viewed as a suggestion that Into Africa is an Afrocentric text. Molefi Kete Asante, a pioneer of Afrocentrism, actually referred to the film series as “a Eurocentric enterprise”. In conclusion, I will briefly address the broader issues regarding the relationship between Islamic and African civilisations that Henry Louis Gates avoids through his negative portrayals of Islam. However, this paper is primarily about Into Africa’s complicity with the representation of Islam in Western media, and not the diverse history of Islamic expansion into Africa. The Islamic Simulacrum Jean Baudrillard identified an epistemological crisis in contemporary media- drenched society with the concept of the simulacrum, the accelerated circulation of images without referents, a hyperreality operating independently of truth value. In spite of the disputed and ill-measured depth to which the simulacrum immerses members of society, its deceptive tides fail to breech the shores of representation--it deals primarily with the circulation of images and not other epistemological sources. As the majority of Western people wade through its currents, some are apprehensive, heeding the warning, and some are careless, occasionally being swept away. Perhaps Baudrillard is a Noah without an ark, proclaiming an invisible flood without a means for salvation, or an academic charlatan, swimming through the air, pitying the drowned. Despite the occasionally messianic tone of Baudrillard’s philosophy, and his disputable claims that simulacrum envelops society, the concept of simulacrum does identify a concrete process through which the media can deceive by projecting signs and images which distort the reality to which any given representation corresponds. In cases of radical alterity, where individuals acquire knowledge of a given subject primarily, or entirely, through the media, simulacrum becomes the sole epistemological force. Media representations of the Islamic world provide a convincing example of this phenomenon. In Covering Islam, Edward Said explores the American news coverage of Islam in the late seventies and early eighties. Within a matrix of military dictatorships and fundamentalist coups, Said examines the underlying geopolitical strategies at work in the representations of the Islamic world. The portrayal of Islam as a monolithic mass of “barbarism.medieval theocracy.[and] distasteful exoticism” weaves itself neatly into a social panic regarding the Middle Eastern control of the United States’ oil supplies (Said, 1981: xv) Though the increasing “coverage” of Islam in 1970s marked a new wave of representational attacks, the history of ethnocentric and xenophobic Western attitudes toward Islam can be traced deep into the roots of modernity. In his landmark work, Orientalism, Said traces the history of Western approaches to studying, describing, and engaging the Muslim world. For hundreds of years, the principal dichotomy established between West and East was the true religion of Christianity versus the false religion of Islam. Europe viewed Islam as a religion with an identical structure to Christianity except Christ had been replaced by the impostor, Mohammed. The very term which designated the religion of Islam in Western discourse bursts with misunderstanding. Islam was externally titled, “Mohammedanism,” a misnomer that would stay in common use well into the twentieth century. Two very basic and ubiquitous teachings throughout the Muslim world are the prohibition against the worship of any man, including the prophet Mohammed, and the reverence of Jesus as one of the greatest prophets of God. Such self-representations of Islam were either ignored or consciously considered irrelevant by Orientalists in the West. Though the religious character of Orientalism has subsided with the secularisation of Christendom, its orientation toward Islam as a monolithic object for study has remained. Regarding the opposed abstractions of “Aryan” and “Semitic” that appeared in late nineteenth-century Orientalist scholarship, Said notes, “.what has not been sufficiently stressed in histories of modern anti-Semitism has been the legitimation of such atavistic designations by Orientalism, and.the way this academic and intellectual legitimation has persisted right through the modern age in discussions of Islam, the Arabs, or the Near Orient. For whereas it is no longer possible to write learned (or even popular) disquisitions on either “the Negro mind” or “the Jewish personality,” it is perfectly possible to engage in such research as “the Islamic mind,” or “the Arab character”.” (1978; 262) As the underlying racism and ethnocentrism of Orientalism has come to inform the media representations of Islam through the late twentieth century, new oppositions have developed to replace the religious dichotomy of past centuries. The secular, rational, democratic, and modern self-image of the West sees its opposite in Islam, the great and dangerous impostor of a benevolent global civilization. The image of Western society as the bastion of democracy, tolerance, and secular pluralism can be easily challenged with any number of incidents demonstrating the enduring racism and viciousness of neo-imperialism. However, in the media, the images of Western benevolence dominate, constituting what might be termed the postmodern simulacrum, with the Islamic simulacrum in contemporary media currently standing as its major opposition.. In Postmodernism and Islam, Akbar S. Ahmed identifies the qualities of postmodernism that compose this simulacrum. Included in his definition of postmodernism are the following criteria: “.a questioning of, a loss of faith in, the project of modernity; a spirit of pluralism; a heightened scepticism of traditional orthodoxies.a rejection of a view of the world as a universal many profound ways the media are the central dynamic, the Zeitgeist, the defining feature, of postmodernism.[it] allows, indeed encourages, the juxtaposition of discourses, and exuberant eclecticism, the mixing of diverse images.” (Ahmed, 1992; 10-11, 25) Ahmed also asserts an explicit connection between postmodernism and “ethno- religious revivalism--or fundamentalism” (1992; 13). The development of fundamentalist assertions of identity deeply intertwine with the transnational unification of postmodernism. Though the fundamentalist phenomenon has occurred worldwide irrespective of religion, economy, or political system, the media focus on fundamentalism has unfairly centred on religious movements within the Islamic world. Indeed, fundamentalism has become a code word for Islam that can be broadly applied to any one of the world’s one billion Muslims. Thus, within the rhetoric of pluralism and tolerance of postmodernity, there is a major exception in the representations of Islam. The Islamic simulacrum marks a modern extension of an ongoing strategy of Western cultural domination. Neither Said nor Ahmed attempt a blanket defence of the charges put forth against Islam in the mass media. Instead, they demonstrate the inaccuracy of the monolithic structure imposed over Islam by the various organs of Western power. When the practices and effects of traditional Orientalism are juxtaposed with those of the Islamic simulacrum, there is very little difference besides the ability for postmodernism to shift from icons of eurocentrism to those of pluralism and humanism in its tactics of vilification. For instance, instead of Islam being attacked as an impostor religion of Christianity, Islam may now be frequently attacked for its “negative treatment of women”. The Muslim woman’s hijab, or veil, has become a symbol of oppression in the West. However, the diversity of opinions and practices within Islam regarding the veil receive little attention, nor does the hijab’s relatively marginal position within the faith. Islam has also been charged with the elimination of indigenous ethnic identities in various regions. Even though such criticisms have appeared within the postmodern simulacrum, it would be highly disputable to assert that postmodern Western society has done anything significant for the liberation of women or the protection of indigenous cultures from the negative effects of global civilization. The ideals of Islam can make as many claims to the protection of women and ethnic identities as can Western humanism. When marginal voices speak after centuries of imposed silence, they can easily be regarded as indicators of an absolute change. However, within the postmodern simulacrum, they can simply transplant a progressive face onto an ongoing process of domination. Many aggressive criticisms of Islam in the media derive their social impact from such a process. Though the Islamic simulacrum functions in a unique way in the propagation of ethnocentrism, it exists as one of the many heads of a polycephalous monster. The enduring racism against peoples of the African diaspora continues through different simulacra. In the United States, the demonisation of black people operates much as it always has in Western culture, but only in distinct realms of transgression which can be officially sanctioned by rhetoric of legal equanimity; overt racism is unacceptable. The paranoia inspired by the O.J. Simpson trial contained every possible invocation of savagery, but only within a rational logic of crime and punishment. Outside these realms of transgression, a simulacrum of equality exists which asserts the passing of racism and the full integration of African Americans into American prosperity. Despite unemployment and poverty rates in the black community that often equal or surpass those of the entire nation during the Great Depression, a belief in the disappearance of racism continues to grow in the U.S. Though the latter simulacrum represents a distinctly postmodern phenomenon, the prior originates in the centuries-old practice of dehumanisation that rationalised and justified the slave trade. In Into Africa, the six-part series produced for BBC in the United Kingdom, and PBS in the United States, Henry Louis Gates travels through various parts of Africa in an attempt to shatter the depictions of the continent as a land void of civilization and culture. He explains that, “it’s important to debunk the myths of Africa being this benighted continent civilised only when white people arrived. Africans have been creators of culture for thousands of years.”(BBC online, 2000) During his journey, however, Henry Louis Gates travels to many parts of Africa which have interacted with both European and Islamic civilization. In his attempt to extract a history of “Black Africa” from these diverse cultures, he reinforces many of the elements of the Islamic simulacrum, thereby adding Into Africa to the arsenal of postmodern strategies to discredit Islam. Into Africa Into Africa is divided into six one-hour episodes with the following titles and content 1) The Swahili Coast: exploring the East African Swahili trading civilization 2) The Road to Timbuktu: travelling along the Niger River toward the fabled Islamic university at Timbuktu 3) The Black Kingdoms of the Nile: venture down the Nile River into the lands of ancient Nubia 4) The Slave Kingdoms: examining West African roles in the slave trade 5) The Holy Land: a pilgrimage through the great sites of Ethiopian Christianity 6) The Lost Cities of the South: reassessing the ancient history of South Africa and Zimbabwe. The first three episodes deal with Islamic Africa. The Swahili Coast begins with Henry Louis Gates arriving in Lamu, a Swahili coastal town, quoting one of the first European mariners to arrive in East Africa, commenting on the wealth and sophistication of the Swahili, most likely a great contrast to his expectations of a land populated with savages. Gates declares his intention to determine the “roots of the Swahili people”, who still have a “distinctive Muslim culture.” The camera films several veiled women walking down the street as Gates mentions that, “for 2,000 years Arab merchants have settled on this coast. You can see their influence everywhere. There seems to be a mosque on every street corner.” This generalisation of Islam, which will continue throughout this episode, utterly ignores that Islam arose in Arabia just over 1400 years ago. Soon after, he goes to meet with Sheikh Bedawi, “one of Lamu’s most venerable Islamic scholars.” During the conversation, Sheikh Bedawi, somewhat light-skinned but clearly African, claims that he is of pure Arab descent, tracing his ancestry to the prophet Mohammed. He also explains that he tries not to look badly upon those with African blood. His translator adds that Arab men used to take African women as concubines, which led to African people being considered inferior. Leaving Lamu by boat, Gates says, “whatever Sheikh Bedowi says, that supposedly pure Arabic blood has long been mixed with the blood of Black Africans.” In this first encounter with Islamic Africa, the image of Islam progresses from veiled women, mosques, and a Qu’ranic school to bigotry, concubines, and confused identity, neatly reaffirming the Islamic simulacrum. Gates continues his journey along the Swahili coast by visiting a town that specialises in the construction of dhals. Gates visits a local architect, Ahmed Sigoff, who also traces his ancestry to the prophet Mohammed. He describes the way that Arab men frequently married African women, with the reverse, African men marrying Arab women, only occurring occasionally. He affirms the higher social standing accorded to those members of the community with Arabian descent. In conclusion to this conversation, Gates states that the situation in Lamu “reminds me how black Americans used to claim descent from some distant Cherokee or Sioux ancestor, anything but pure Negro.” With this statement, Gates draws a parallel between Swahili and African-American cultures. The justification for such a parallel is dubious within the evidence provided in the episode. Beyond the possibility for highly divergent interpretations of what “pure Negro” might mean in each culture, Gates oversimplifies the complexity of ethnic friction in the United States and Kenya under a common banner of “blackness”. Gates makes a legitimate claim that the Swahili culture should not be entirely credited to Arabs. However, he inappropriately uses “Islam” and “Arab” as interchangeable signifiers. When Gates next travels to Shanga, the remains of the oldest city in coastal East Africa, his guide explains that the lowest strata of the town resembles archaeological remains of inland settlements, proving that the first inhabitants of the city were black Africans. One of his guides, Mohammed Badi, explains that, 2,000 years ago, the Arabs arrived and gained power gradually through intermarriage. However, Gates never addresses the fact that the arrival of Islam in Arabia arises six hundred years after the initial contact. The significant ways in which Islam transformed Arab culture, including a strong emphasis on equality irrespective of ethnicity, never enter his discussion of Swahili culture. The elision of these conflicts within the Muslim world itself allows the monolithic model of Islam to stand unchallenged. Later, when he’s leaving the island of Lamu, he notes that “the Arabs weren’t the only ones who came to exploit the coast. The British were here from the late nineteenth century up to 1960. They gave special privileges to those who claimed Arab descent, deepening racial divisions.” The extent to which colonialism may have contributed to the ethnic tension previously described at Lamu receives no critical attention. While the issues of ethnic identity directly relate to the project of Into Africa, Gates makes a clear effort to include images that reinforce the Islamic simulacrum in other ways. After returning from the archaeological remains at Shanga, Gates plays a board game with his other guide, Abus Shakoona. After discussing Abus’ perspective on his ethnic identity as a mix of Arab and African, the conversation turns to the subject of Abus’ marriage to two women. Abus explains that Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives. Gates explains, “I would rather [my daughters] have two husbands than them to be one wife to a husband with two wives.I’d rather them be in control.” So far, Islamic gender relations have been described as a combination of polygamy and concubinage, and Gates clearly asserts his opinion that Islam disempowers women with the statement about his daughters. The next stop for Gates is Mombassa, a large port city and a major destination for European tourists. Walking along the beach, Gates comments on the disturbing racial polarity between the white tourists and the African servants. A moment later, he states, “it’s no accident that the people from Oman and the Saudi-Arabians would move here.leaving all that desert and heat, but this is spectacular.this is so beautiful.” Not only does this statement make an untenable connection between Arab traders and European tourists, it reeks of the malicious depiction of a foreign land that Into Africa attempts to destroy. When Gates travels to the archaeological remains of the Swahili city of Getti, he reinvokes the notion of female oppression in Islam. Standing in an arched inlet of the remains of Getti’s fifteenth- century mosque, Abdullah Alailsi, the curator, recites the fatiha, the first verse of the Qu’ran and an oft-repeated element of salaat, Muslim prayer. After finishing, they continue a conversation as follows: Abdullah: So with the help of the echo, as you realized, the message will be conveyed and received very simultaneously. And for that, those women at that time had no complaints at all. Right, they could hear him very vividly. Gates: They couldn’t see him as well. Abdullah: They couldn’t see him but they could hear him. The front part of it was entirely meant for men and the hind part was specifically kept for the ladies. When Gates veers from his stated mission of reconstituting a stolen African past and swerves into unrelated representations of Muslim culture, he continually reinforces the Islamic simulacrum. After Abdullah’s statement that men and women are separated in Muslim prayer services, there is no treatment of this issue beyond Gates’ insinuated disapproval. After his tour of Getti, Gates comments that “unlike the British archaeologists, Abdullah says Getti was an African city built by Africans. This grand city was built by the Swahili. And here, on the mainland of Kenya, the Swahili are seen as Africans.” This glides over the fact that the Swahili in Mombassa, and those who built Getti, are Muslims. Gates is only interested in the colour of the builders, and not a revised picture of the African/Arab cooperation that Getti might demonstrate. The final destination in The Swahili Coast is the island of Zanzibar, which grew rich during the eighteenth and nineteenth century by trading spices and slaves. The conflicts of ethnic identity are at their ugliest in Zanzibar. The island has witnessed great civil unrest in recent decades as the phantoms of its history have risen violently. Gates returns to many of the ethnic identity issues previously addressed, only this time linking them to the slave trade. Gates travels to the village of Kizimkazi where he talks to two black men who consider themselves Persian. Unlike the residents of Lamu, they possess no family trees and offer a rather poor verification of their Persian identity. However, a twelfth- century mosque with Khoufic inscriptions remains in the village that testifies to an ancient Persian presence on the island. Gates once again parallels the experience of Swahili Muslims to African Americans by stating, “so it’s true that the Persians really did settle in Zanzibar -- just as the Arabs, and later the Indians did. But why do so many people here claim to be the descendants of a handful of medieval Persian mariners? It’s a bit like me claiming to be white because my great-great- grandfather was an Irishman named Brady.I think the answer lies in the shadow of Zanzibar’s history, as the centre of the East African slave trade.” Despite the historical links and similarities between Zanzibar and the black Atlantic, the conflation of the two histories in such a matter again oversimplifies the ethnic identity issues at work in East Africa. In passing, as evidence of the island’s prosperity in the nineteenth century, Gates explains that the sultan of Oman moved to Zanzibar in 1940 with his court and his 99 concubines—another icon of the Islamic simulacrum, the harem, coming into play. He concludes by talking to a descendent of Tiputip, a famed Swahili slave trader, about the island’s sad history. Her unconvincing defence of the Arab role in slavery only emphasises the Arab participation in the institution, though Gates attempts no sweeping indictment of Muslims as slavers. In conclusion to The Swahilil Coast, Gates says, “it’s taken my people 50 years to move from ‘Negro,’ to ‘Black,’ to ‘African-American.’ I wonder how long it will take the Swahili to call themselves ‘African.’” With this statement, the Swahili no longer have the right to identify themselves as Muslims. According to Gates, they must purify themselves from Arab influence and redefine themselves within the domain of “Africa.” In the end, Gates comes very close to affirming one of the great Orientalist maxims, the oft-quoted position of Karl Marx that, “they cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.”(Said, 1978; xiii) The Swahili Coast presents a version of East African history that could be classified as Afrocentric Orientalism. In The Road to Timbuktu, and The Black Kingdoms of the Nile, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. affirms the Islamic simulacrum in more subtle ways than the obvious misrepresentations of Swahili culture. He begins his sojourn to Timbuktu by explaining the reverence felt by African-Americans for the fabled city. The very existence of Timubuktu as a major centre of learning in West Africa disproves the myths of savagery imposed on black people throughout the period of European expansion. Recounting the old tales of Timbuktu he heard back in his neighbourhood barber shop, he quoted some men as saying, “there’s **** in these books that the white man don’t want us to know about.” The quest for that knowledge drives Gates on his trip to Timbuktu. Though the great Mali empire which Gates describes, and its university at Timbuktu, were Muslim, he pays minimal attention to the Islamic identity of either. Unlike The Swahili Coast, there are few representations of Islam or ethnic difference as he travels along the River Niger. Even when he encounters modern slavery by Tuareg nomads, who are very likely Muslim, he makes no mention of religion. The first explicit Islamic reference comes in his description of the fourteenth century king Monsamoosa’s hajj , or pilgrimage to Mecca, with 500 slaves, each carrying a staff of pure gold. He makes no criticism of Monsamoosa or his practice of slavery. Gates visits the twelfth century mosque at Djenne, a giant and impressive building made entirely of mud. The Imam of Djenne agrees to speak with Gates in front of the mosque. When Gates asks permission to enter the grand building, he is told that the only way he may enter is by becoming Muslim. His responds, “if I become Muslim, I want four wives.” Though this is clearly meant as a joke, and taken as such by his company, Gates again invokes polygamy as a symbol of Islam. Gates acknowledges the development of literacy in Mali with the arrival of Arabs and Islam, but also displays evidence of much older civilisations. There is validity in his goal of disproving a European claim that civilization only came with the Arabs, but again he focuses on negating Western racism by appropriating “Africa” in toto. When he finally reaches Timbuktu, he finds, as expected, a city centuries in decline from its peak. His guide, Ali Seedie, a Muslim scholar, shows him several of the centuries-old books from his family’s personal collection that remain as a legacy to the great university. Gates concludes the episode, saying, “the mind of the black world locked into the pages of these priceless books. Evidence of a grand civilization, untranslated and unknown.” The final remark again resonates with Orientalist tones. These books certainly testify to the greatness of the old Mali empire, but also to Muslim civilization, which endures to this day, despite the implication that the books are “unknown” because they have not been translated from Arabic. It is important to note however, that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. obtained a grant from the Mellon Foundation to catalogue and translate the books from Timbuktu. In a response to Ali Mazrui’s criticism of Into Africa, Gates argues that “the film series would have been justified, in my opinion, if this accomplishment had been the sole benefit that generated.”(West Africa Review, 2000) Though this claim has validity in regard to this significant benefit, it is still important to assess the harms of the film series. Even though The Road to Timbuktu lacks explicitly malicious representations of Islam, Gates assumes the posture of traditional Western academic scholars in dealing with the “otherness” of Muslim society. In The Black Kingdoms of the Nile, Gates again encounters the Islamic world, continuing many of the Afrocentric Orientalist themes from the previous episodes. Gates delves into the history of Nile civilisations in an attempt to show the major role that Black pharaohs played in ancient Egypt. This episode presents convincing evidence for the major role of black Africans in ancient civilization and the racism that has prevented Western archaeologists from acknowledging it. However, the ethnographic elements of the travelogue address Islam in predictable ways. Gates explains that the Egyptian construction of the Aswan damn buried much of ancient Nubia under water. He notes that many African- Americans objected to the damn at the time of its construction because they considered it racist. His guide, Esra Dahab, a Nubian, expresses her anger at the loss of the geographic source of Nubian civilization, but she fails to confirm or deny the charge of racism. She takes Gates to a village that was specifically built for the flood refugees, where he notes that “Islamic terrorists” had killed 68 tourists several weeks beforehand. Esra introduces him to a woman who experienced the move when she was a child. Initially, she explains that the benefits of the damn outweigh the costs, and that she has no pain from moving. However, she expresses some nervousness because an Egyptian police officer is standing nearby. After he leaves, she affirms that people were sad when they left the land and that she misses it. Gates suggests that she has been “programmed.” Later, when Gates is in the Sudan, where a proposed damn could wash away more ancient Nubian lands, he makes similar inquiries to Sheikh Ashi, who, with his brother, runs a Qu’ranic school that would face devastation if the damn is built. The man expresses some regret, but again suggests that the damn would bring many benefits to the area. Gates asserts that Sheikh Ashi is also afraid to speak his mind, a questionable psychological assessment considering the actual line of questioning. When Gates enters the Sudan for the first time, he says, “all we ever hear about the Sudan is that it’s in a state of civil war, it has a fundamentalist Islamic government and it hates Americans. So I’m kind of nervous.” In one breath, Gates affirms the existence of the Islamic simulacrum; with the next, he justifies it. Toward the end of the episode, explaining the position of a Nubian politician, he says, “she believes that because the Nubian people are so fiercely independent, they’re a threat to the fundamentalist government.” His portrayal of the Islamic societies of the Nile region as racist and oppressive is consistent with the images of fundamentalism in the Islamic simulacrum. Afrocentric Orientalism The concept of Afrocentric Orientalism could only arise amidst the shifting cultural icons of postmodernity. Besides the continual reinforcement of the Islamic simulacrum, Gates’ sympathy towards Christianity throughout the series offers a stunning contrast to his depiction of Muslims and the West African cultures he explores in The Slave Kingdoms. In the United States, where the series aired under a different title, Wonders of the African World, Gates has been attacked repeatedly for his uneven leveling of blame on Africans for the slave trade, with very little attention given to European involvement. While in Zanzibar, Gates expresses disillusionment with the Anglican attempts at atonement for slavery. In his discussions with Canon Garda, a Christian leader in Zanzibar, he only speaks of his inability to forgive the slavers. He refuses to address any of the ethnic identity conflicts embedded in Christianity. In The Holy Land, Gates almost performs a total elision of the Muslim presence in Ethiopia. He states, “after surviving nearly 2,000 years the Christian kingdom was overthrown in the 1974 Marxist revolution. Today, Ethiopia is secular and is a democracy, with almost as many Muslims as Christians.” Though the Muslim presence in Ethiopia dates back fourteen centuries to the time of the prophet Mohammed, when a Christian Ethopian king offered sanctuary to the early Muslims who were persecuted in Mecca, this statement suggests that the arrival of Muslims to the country is relatively recent and insignificant. He also refers to “Muslim invaders” and to Ethiopia being “protected from Islamic neighbours by formidable mountain ranges.” While travelling through the Sudan, Gates comments that “the Nubians were Christians for 1200 years before they became Muslims in the sixteenth century. Some even took part in the Crusades.” The transcription of this statement does not capture Gates’ deepened voice at the grave pronunciation of “Muslims”, or the celebratory way in which he refers to the Crusades. Edward Said exposes the deepest roots of Orientalism as a paranoia stemming from the conflict between European Christianity and Islam. Henry Louis Gates upholds these fundamental elements of Orientalism within an Afrocentric framework. The paradoxical nature of Gates’ Afrocentric Orientalism stems from the very mission of Into Africa, the reclaiming of African history from the racist framework imposed by European colonialism. Though the series succeeds in reinventing the image of Africa without some of its traditional stereotypes, Gates succumbs to the same illness that afflicted other Africanist movements of the twentieth century. Biodin Jeyifo suggests that Into Africa engages in the “reconfiguration of Senghorian negritude”, explaining, “.every single claim or assertion that can be made about Africa is premised on the obsessive need to refute the doubts already established by the Western world about those claims and assertions.this was the animating spirit, the motive force of Senghorian Negritude: whatever Africa is, or is not, can be established only with reference to the doubts and phobias about Africa established in the minds of Africans themselves and the rest of the world by Western racism and ethnocentrism.The point of the objections to negritude of course was that in becoming locked into that dialectic of discourse and counter-discourse with Western racism and ethnocentrism, negritude gave too much ground to the West, it allowed Western frames of ideas and discourse to dictate the terms of discussions of the African past and present, and worst of all, sometimes negritude even became no more than an inversion or caricature of Western ideas of what it is to be human or ’civilized.’“ (West Africa Review, 2000) V.Y. Mudimbe tracks the rupture in discourses of colonialism and domination that attempted to define Africa on its own terms. (Mudimbe, 1988) African scholars who attempted the counter-discourse with the West often found themselves in an uncomfortable intermediate position between Western academic systems and their respective African cultures. The use of Western thought and languages by African scholars still remains a difficult issue for the self-representation of Africa within global contexts. Gates comes from a very traditional Western academic background (Yale, Cambridge, Harvard) and he maintains its general structures with the exception of its generally demeaning depiction of Africa. Gates continually makes comparisons between Africa and Europe through the six episodes of Into Africa, as if the two regions are distinct poles of a radical dichotomy which he intends to equalise. In Getti, he shows that the Swahili possessed toilets which rival those he has seen in Europe. When arriving at the mosque of Djenne, he says, “it looks like something from outer space, but for me, it’s as sublime as the cathedral at Notre- Dame.” The latter statement confirms not only the positioning of Africa and Europe as dichotomous opposites, but also the cultural distance from which Henry Louis Gates views Muslim West Africa. Gates appropriates every culture, person, and artefact that he encounters for his reconstituted vision of Africa within a Eurocentric definition of civilization. Conclusion Henry Louis Gates, Jr. allows the anti-Islamic structures of Orientalist academia and postmodern media to rest unchallenged in his documentary of Africa. During his voyage, he often resembles the very European travelling scholars whose legacy he wishes to dispel. He presents Islamic Africa as a monolithic mass with a confused self-identity. He ignores the deep variations and practices of African Muslims and their relationship to a global Islamic civilization. Though Into Africa may help resuscitate the self-image and historical pride of people scattered throughout the African diaspora, it also suggests that Islam stands as a threat to any healthy reconstituted image of Africa or an African future. However, from E.W. Blyden, to Franz Fanon, to Kwame Nkrumah, Islam has always been considered a necessary partner in the development of pan-African unity and liberation. In addition, Islam has played a major role in African-American history, from the Muslim slaves who made up an estimated ten percent of all those who were brutally imported to America, to the steady rise of converts among black Americans in the twentieth century. (Gardell, 1996, p. 32, 214-215) These elisions reduce the potency of Into Africa as a treatise against the Eurocentric positions. Instead, the series adds another marginal discourse to the vilification of Islam, enhancing the power of the postmodern simulacrum to retrofit Western imperialism.
  11. By Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Only rarely as a scholar does one have the opportunity to discuss one's passion for a subject, the reasons for one's choice of it as one's life's work, and the raison d'etre for the production of a specific work about it. The extraordinarily energetic reactions to my film series, "Wonders of the African World," provide such an occasion for me to address these issues generally and, more specifically, to respond to questions raised by the distinguished African scholar, Professor Ali Mazrui. Before I do so, however, let me state frankly that I relish the fact that so very many people, academics and non-academics alike, have felt moved to write to me and to each other about the series. I am first and last a teacher, and anytime so many people are moved to discuss and debate African history must be seen as a good time, indeed, for our field. We are, after all, scholars, not devotees of a religion or an ideology, and the free exchange of ideas without vilification or name-calling is one of the fundamental aspects of the scholar's calling. Like so many of my contemporaries in African and African American Studies, I came of age in the early sixties, just as many African countries were gaining their independence. I was ten years old in 1960, that great year of African independence, and for reasons even I do not understand, I busied myself memorizing the names of each African country, its capital, and its leader, pronouncing their names as closely as I could to the way our evening news commentator did on the nightly news. Enamoured of Africa and keenly curious about socialism, I spent the 1970-1971 academic year living in an Ujamaa village in central Tanzania, where I was trained to deliver general anesthesia at an Anglican Mission Hospital. After an extended time there at Kilimatinde, I moved to Dar es Salaam, where I lived for two months, then hitch-hiked across the Equator, managing to travel from Tanzania through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo, by land and by river, from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean without leaving the ground. By the age of 20, I had traveled through nine African countries, saddened only that illness, a severe case of dysentery, prevented me from fulfilling another dream, which was to cross the Sahara by land. After graduation from College, where I majored in History, I went to the University of Cambridge where I enrolled in the Faculty of English, under the direction of Wole Soyinka. Much of my passion for African Studies was generated by Soyinka's sublime example, and it is clear to me today that had it not been for our chance encounter, and my deep friendship with a fellow African student, Kwame Anthony Appiah, I would have ended up neither as a professor, nor as a scholar of African or African American Studies. Soyinka taught me many things, far too many to detail here. But what most struck me about him was his dictum that a fundamental aspect of commitment to a field and indeed, to one's people, however broadly that may be defined, was the willingness both to praise and to criticize, whenever the occasion called for one to do so. "Criticism, like charity," Wole would repeat, again and again like a mantra, "starts at home." And so, in the pages of his journal, Transition, on whose editorial board I have sat since 1973, Soyinka attacked the excesses of brutal dictators such as Idi Amin, Mobutu, or Sani Abacha, as well as the reluctance of other African and African American intellectuals to do so in public for fear, somehow, of giving comfort to colonialists, racists, or neo-colonialists. Since graduate school, I have taken Soyinka's notion of "tough love" as the ultimate sign of passion and true commitment that a scholar can demonstrate in his devotion to her or his field. Like many of my contemporaries, I have long been appalled by the penchant of white racists to demean, deny, or denigrate the civilizations that black people have produced on the African continent. The sustained, systematic attempt of European scholars to lift Egypt out of Africa, to whiten its people, and to deny its hybrid culture any influence from sub-Saharan African civilization is one of the great scandals of Europe's attempt to dominate the African continent and to justify the enslavement of tens of millions of its people. I vowed to fight that early on in my career, and as a student produced a 500-page Ph.D. thesis about the racist discourse of Enlightenment philosophers such as Hume, Kant, Jefferson, and Hegel, and their denigration of Africans as a people without reason, and Africa as a "continent without History." "Wonders of the African World" is my attempt to bring into the homes of average Africans, African Americans, Europeans, and Americans, some of the monuments of civilization created by people living in twelve countries on the African continent, delivered in an accessible form. To do so, I wrote to two dozen scholars in Africa, Europe, and America, inviting them to send me suggestions for the "seven wonders" of the African world. I compiled their suggestions into a list of twenty-four, then grouped these by region. For example, five on my original list, the Sahara, the River Niger, the Grand Mosque at Djenne, the Sankore Mosque at Timbuktu, and the Dogon people, all reside in Mali. Hence, Mali became a site for one of my programs. Let me state the obvious: I am a professor of literature, not an historian, an archeologist, or an anthropologist. Accordingly, the Wall-to-Wall Production Company and I consulted with a wide range of scholars to shape my approach to this vast and complex subject, on both the film series and the book that accompanies it. I have attached, at the end of this piece, a list of some of the scholars whom I consulted. Each draft of the chapters of my book was critiqued several times by other scholars, none more thoroughly than the chapter on the Swahili coast, which was reviewed by Ali Mazrui himself, whose opinion of it, printed on the dust-jacket, reads as follows: This is more than a book about Africa. It is a study in black America's profound ambivalence about our shared ancestral continent. Caught between a distaste for Africa within his own family and his abiding love for and fascination with Africa, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., traverses the continent with a keen eye, a brilliant mind, and an ambivalent heart." Now, having seen the film series, Professor Mazrui has shared his reactions and concerns, to which I should now like to respond. Let me repeat that I cherish the sort of debates and discussions that his critique has generated, especially given the fact that it has occurred on the Internet. Perhaps this debate will be recalled by our descendants as the first such use of the Internet by scholars in African and African American Studies to air their views. If so, this will have been a signal moment for our field. Since Professor Mazrui's critique has been so widely disseminated, let me refer to the questions he raises by implication, episode by episode. Perhaps because of his haste to share his initial responses, his critique contains a number of factual errors. 1. Episode One: Nubia. I did not attempt to "dis-Africanize ancient Egypt". Rather, I sought to accord ancient Nubia its due recognition. The difference is critical. I hope to deal with the question of the color of ancient Egyptians in a special one-hour documentary that will feature a wide array of experts. I would hope to invite Maulana Karenga, Molefi Asante, Dr. Ben and Martin Bernal among those to appear on camera. What do I think about this issue? Though not an expert, I suspect that if the average ancient Egyptian had shown up in Mississippi in 1950, they would have been flung into the back of the bus. And that is black enough for me. But the fundamental fact, on which there is no reasonable disagreement, is that Egypt is first and last, an African civilization. (Mazrui mistakenly claims that I am speaking to a European guide at Abu Simbel. I am not. I am speaking to an Egyptian. That's a pretty good example of "dis-Africanizing modern Egypt!") 2. Episode Two: The Swahili. Ali erroneously argues that I failed to consult with Swahili experts, or to put them on camera, or to include Muslims. This is just not true. Ummi Ali Hammid, the descendent of Tippu Tip, is a Swahili and a Muslim, and it was she that said: "It was the trend of the time, that was business, purely. You would either be a slave or a slaver. You choose the lesser of the two evils. And if you are in a position to be a slaver why should you be a slave?" (I assume that Mazrui is not questioning the fact that thousands of slaves were sold in Zanzibar.) As for the experts we consulted, look at the list below. 3. Episode Three: Asante and Benin. The source of the statement about the slave trade, that there would have been no slave trade in these countries without the complicity and collaboration of the kings (and their representatives) in Asante and Dahomey was not me, but Dr. Akosua Perbi, a Ghanaian historian. This is indeed a vexed and painful issue. I know that it was, and remains, a painful issue for me. How I envy my African friends' easy accessibility to their people's languages and cultures! How much I lament all that our ancestors suffered to survive the Middle Passage, slavery, and Jim Crow racism and segregation. But don't ask me, a descendant of slaves, to avoid addressing this complex issue, which disturbs so many of us so deeply simply because it is so confusing, so troubling, so anguishing. No one I interviewed thought my questions inappropriate or felt that I wanted to make them feel guilty. I don't believe guilt to be heritable. I merely anted to bring a dialogue into the open between Africans and African Americans that has long been simmering beneath the surface. We all feel discomfort in discussing the contributory role of African hierarchies in the slave trade. If "Wonders" succeeds in opening this deeply buried matter to sober reflection, then the series will have made an important contribution. Need it be said that to acknowledge that Africans participated in the slave trade along with Europeans is not to exclude the horrible crimes of the latter? 4. Episode Four: Ethiopia. Mazrui chides me for interviewing the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church wearing a T-shirt. The shirt bears an image from one of the holiest sites in Ethiopian Christendom. Nevertheless, I myself apologized to the Patriarch on camera for my inability to return to my hotel to change after shooting another scene earlier that morning. He accepted my apology and we moved on. As for my supposed "sarcasm" "about the authenticity of the Ark," I happen to believe that there is an ancient Ark housed in St. Mary's Church at Axum, and that it most probably is the best candidate for the ark that some claimed housed Moses' Tablets. (Whether or not you believe that Moses went up to the mountain, and God inscribed on two tablets the Ten Commandments is entirely a matter of personal belief.) Let me put it this way: along the way to Ethiopia I interviewed the Patriarch, Minister Farrakhan, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Given the belief system that each represents and claims to believe more or less literally, why is it so hard to believe that the Ethiopians possess a holy relic of such antiquity? Why make such a bold claim in the first place unless someone has solid reason to believe it to be true? The Ethiopian government, by the way, has hailed the series "for unveiling so many wonders of Africa and Ethiopia" and for "combating flat, superficial images." "Wonders" is, it concluded, "a wonderful piece of work." (Letter from the Embassy of Ethiopia, Washington, D.C., November 1999). 5. Episode Five: Timbuktu. As Mazrui knows, I have never called anyone on the African continent or on any other continent a barbarian: I called the practice of female genital mutilation barbaric, and it is. And until it is eradicated from the African continent, I shall not disguise my opposition to it. No apologies there. Second, I did not describe the relation between the Bella and the Tuareg as slavery; Mr. Baba, my informant, did. What I said was that the relation between the Bella and the Tuareg was "as close to slavery as I ever want to get." And I mean that. I will not do Ali the discourtesy of suggesting that he aimed to defend a relationship of domination based on heredity and skin color. 6. Episode Six: South Africa and Zimbabwe. Ali's only objection to this episode is that it is a "tourist travelogue." "Wonders" is an autobiographical essay, narrated and written by an African American, one who has traveled extensively by land and water from Johannesburg to Cairo, from Zanzibar to Dakar, on over 50 trips to the Continent. The whole series was framed as a travelogue which allowed me to show both the diversity of the vast African continent and the African peoples themselves. I am proud of "Wonders of the African World," and I stand by the mode of film making that it embodies. As I said at the outset, I relish debate and the free exchange of ideas. Ali Mazrui is an admired friend; but in his haste to share his disagreements with me on the Internet, he has accused me of saying several things that I simply did not say. Yet I think there is a deep difference in attitude between us that underlies Ali's response to my series. The role of African collaboration in the slave trade (though hardly a major part of my film series) is anguishing to me. He displays no such anguish. While intellectually I know that kingdoms engaged in war and sold their enemy captives to Europeans, and that they did not think of these captives as "fellow Africans," still I wonder why the King of Dahomey forced the slaves to march around the "Tree of Forgetfulness" six times, counter-clockwise, so that they would forget those who had enslaved them into the horrors they would face on the Middle Passage and in the New World, so that their souls would not return to Dahomey to haunt the guilty. (Go to the Route des Esclaves in Benin and see the tree yourself.) Does this sound as though those in Africa were unaware of the depth of suffering that New World slavery held? Does it not suggest they felt guilty about it? You decide. But don't ask me not to wonder what in the world was on these brothers' minds when they sold other black people to these strange Europeans! Let me end with a piece of good news. So many people have asked me about the fate of the books at Timbuktu. When I returned from filming in Mali, I secured a grant from the Mellon Foundation to catalogue the manuscripts that we filmed, to construct a building to house them, and ultimately to digitize and translate them. The film series would have been justified, in my opinion, if this accomplishment had been the sole benefit that generated. The Malian government and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard are collaborating jointly on this crucially important project. I invite all who would care to discuss these ideas further to participate in an on-line chat that we shall conduct soon on our website, Please check the site for further details.
  12. I have received an avalanche of responses since my "Preliminary Critique of Gates" went into the Internet. I am grateful for all your comments. Some ninety percent of the comments that I have received are angry, if not outraged, by Gates' television series. In fairness to Skip Gates, he himself may be receiving many more positive responses from an entirely different constituency. I have no doubt there is a significant market for Wonders of the African World, but probably not at many African Studies Centers in major U.S. universities. Africanist scholars seem to be overwhelmingly critical. Edward Said, the brilliant Palestinian professor at Columbia University, made his mark when he published his book Orientalism referring to the strange combination of cultural condescension, paternalistic possessiveness and ulterior selectivity shown by certain Western scholars towards non-Western societies in Asia, "the Middle East" and Africa. Indeed the concept of the Middle East which is so Eurocentric was itself born out of Orientalism. The question which has been raised by Skip Gates' television series is whether it signifies the birth of Black Orientalism. Are we witnessing the birth of a new Black paradigm which combines cultural condescension with paternalistic possessiveness and ulterior selectivity? The condescension in Gates' television series might have been at its worst in Ethiopia and over the Ark of the Covenant. The paternalistic possessiveness was in Great Zimbabwe and in the wonders of the manuscripts in Timbuktu. The selectivity not only knocked out virtually the whole of North Africa; it also knocked out Nigeria, Africa's most populous country. Nigeria as the center of the three of the largest and most historically dynamic cultures in Africa the Yoruba, the Hausa and Igbo never qualified as one of the "Wonders of the African World," in spite of Skip Gates' close relationship with Wole Soyinka, Black Africa's only Nobel Laureate for Literature. Gates' selectivity also got the white man off the hook for the Atlantic slave trade! Did Gates boycott Nigeria in his TV series because dictator Sani Abacha was in power? Then why did Gates film in Sudan which had a regime widely regarded as more repressive? At any rate Sudan's policies had killed many more people than Abacha's in Nigeria. Gates' refusal to include Nigeria in his TV series was a colossal lapse in credibility and in judgement! What has Black Orientalism got to do with circumcision ceremonies and rites of passage? One or two sisters who wrote to me were worried by my remark that Gates was playing to "the Western feminist gallery" when in a casual sentence he went too far in condemning female genital surgery. Some Western feminists are aware that some of the greatest defenders of female circumcision in Africa are women themselves. We must all convince each other that this particular tradition must end. I personally have publicly spoken against it in Africa itself where it matters. See, for example, my highly publicized lecture on "The Black Woman" given for The Guardian newspaper in Nigeria on July 4, 1991, and published among other places in Research in African Literatures (The Ohio State University, Columbus, Vol.24, No.1, Spring 1993). But cultural reform requires persuasion, education and example. Cheap rhetoric and denunciations are not very helpful. What has Black Orientalism got to do with linguistic authenticity? My Egyptian and Lebanese respondents in the United States have drawn my attention to the fact that Skip Gates may have been taken for a ride by his interpreter of Arabic when Gates was interviewing a Nubian woman whom Skip refers to as "Ozayya Suleiman" (judging by Skip's pronunciation). The person who praised the Aswan Dam and the relocation of the Nubians was not Ozayya Suleiman speaking in Arabic, but the interpreter in English putting pro-Government words into Ozayya Suleiman's mouth. It was the interpreter who was trying to please the intelligence officer of the government!! Apparently Gates did a grave injustice to the older Nubian woman by assuming she was the one who was trying to please the Government's representative. This interpretation has been given to me by my Egyptian and Lebanese respondents. I have to double-check it further in person. Where does religion fit into Black Orientalism? A couple of respondents asked if my TV series The Africans: A Triple Heritage (1986) had not had a pro-Islamic agenda. I shall always be grateful to Skip Gates for allowing me in the 1990s to challenge Wole Soyinka when he made the same charge in Gates' magazine Transition. Please consult the magazine's issues Nos.54 of 1991 and 57 of 1992. Soyinka and I thrashed that question in full. Although the phrase "triple heritage" is mine, the interpretation of Africa as a confluence of three cultures was partly Kwame Nkrumah's. It was Kwame Nkrumah, founder President of Ghana, who saw Africa as an interplay of indigenous culture, Islam and what Nkrumah called Euro-Christian civilization. Before Nkrumah, Edward Blyden in the nineteenth century had published his book, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race. My TV series was standing on the shoulders of those Pan-African giants. Where does race fit into Black Orientalism? We must not drift into the fallacy of regarding Skip Gates' point of view as the African-American perspective. Skip himself is such an individualist that he would be horrified by such a conclusion. Even more horrified would be African-American Pan-Africanists and Afrocentrists. Almost none of them regard Gates' voice as their voice. On the contrary, Skip has denounced them in the columns of The New York Times deliberately against the pictorial background of the Star of David, (God knows why!). I have talked to some very angry anti-Gates African Americans recently. His attack on African-American nationalists and Pan-Africanists was later widely publicized and circulated by a Jewish organization. Skip Gates has always been very gracious to me personally. He even consulted me on the chapter about the Waswahili for his book, though he did not consult me in any capacity about the television series. For the single chapter he accepted some of my criticisms and rejected others. Did he accept minor editorial criticisms and reject major ones? The truth lies somewhere in-between. I am a member of the OAU Group of Eminent Persons on Reparations for Black Enslavement. I and eleven others were "sworn-in" before the Presidents of Africa at a summit t meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Dakar, Senegal, in 1992. As an OAU Group of Eminent Persons on such a momentous topic, we are supposed to explore the modalities and strategies of campaigning for reparations from the Western world for the enslavement and destitution of the Black people. Our Chair in the Group was the late Chief Moshood Abiola of Nigeria. Now Skip Gates' television series virtually tells the world that the West has no case to answer. Africans sold each other. Presumably if there are to be any reparations in the trans-Atlantic slave-trade, it would have to be from Africans to Africans. Skip Gates succeeded in getting an African to say that without the role of Africans in facilitating it, there would have been no trans-Atlantic slave trade at all. To my astonishment when watching "Wonders of the African World," I heard a Ghanaian tourist guide at a slave fort (Elmina) tell African-American tourists that they were sold into slavery by Africans. Is this the policy of the Ghanaian government to tell tourists that it was not the white man but the Black man who was responsible for the Atlantic slave system? If not, why is not the guide sacked? He was saying to African Americans "We Ghanaians sold you!" The Ghanaians I have spoken to since Gates' television series are convinced that the Ghanaian guide at the slave fort was given an "inducement" to blame the slave trade on Africans! Who is behind this rewriting of the history of the slave-trade? I am sure Gates was as surprised as I was when he heard such frankness from a Ghanaian tourist-guide. But even if some Africans were collaborators in the slave trade, why is Gates presenting the story as if the victims were only the Diaspora Africans (exported) while Africans in the ancestral continent were ALL villains? Is Black Orientalism racially masochistic? What about the families of the captured Africans who did not see their loved ones come back home? What about the Africans who were victimised by slave-raiders but were never exported? What about African resistance to slavery? What about the Africans who were not involved in the slave trade at all either as victims or as villains? Why is Skip Gates presenting us with a simplistic picture of continental Africans (villains) selling their brothers and sisters (Diaspora African victims) and provoking what he regards as the curse on Africa for selling its children? In reality only a small minority of the inhabitants of Africa could have sold and exported fellow Africans. So why is Africa as a whole presented in such stark evil ways? Why does Henry Louis Gates Jr. virtually let the white man off the hook on the Atlantic slave trade apart from a throw-away sentence? What is going on? What is the agenda? I hope the idea of Black Orientalism is not to sabotage all claims for reparations for Black enslavement. What has Black Orientalism got to do with the Jewish experience? It partly depends upon the style of the Black Orientalist. In history Jews suffered as slaves, benefitted as slavers, and were also among the abolitionists and liberators. Some of you have expressed surprise that I included a reference to Jewish capital in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. There were several reasons. Gates has sometimes used Jewish symbols in his attacks on Pan-Africanists and Afrocentrists. Secondly, Gates has used a significant part of this television series to expose Arab participation in the slave trade. Why not complete the Semitic picture and refer to Jewish participation in the trade? Thirdly, I regarded it as odd that in a television odyssey in Africa Gates should remember to wear what some regarded as a "Jewish shirt" (or at least a shirt with Hebrew written on it) but never once wear an African shirt as his own informal attire! After all, many African Americans wear such shirts right here in the United States routinely. (Gates was ceremonially dressed in Sudan and in Kente regalia for a Ghanaian occasion, but he managed a few snide remarks and jokes in the process.) Jews were a minority of the Western financiers of the slave-trade. Jews did not invent Western capitalism. They were sucked into it. But Gates deliberately tries to irritate by juxtaposition. Gates goes out of his way to tell us that in 1970 he came to Africa for the first time through Israel. Was that supposed to be a metaphor? He proceeds to tell us that Tanzania was a culture-shock in discomfort (after Israel?). The juxtaposition of Israel with the discomforts of Tanzania was startling and unnecessary. Some of my friends think that because I did a television series of my own, I should have remained silent on the series by Skip Gates. But I was an African long before I did a television series for the BBC and the PBS. I am responding to Skip Gates' TV series first and foremost as an African. But secondarily, I am responding to it as a senior and elder Africanist. Skip is a friend. But he knows he and I have huge differences. If he feels he has a right to criticise Africa and abuse the Swahili people and still love Africa, I feel I have a right to criticize Skip Gates and still count him as a friend!!!
  13. Ali A. Mazrui I. On Fatwas and Falsehoods II.. On Politics and Identity III. On Images and the Media IV. Soyinka’s Martrydom and Mazrui’s Nigeria V. The Politics of Ancestry VI. Concluding Observations APPENDIX: “A 1992 Plea for Reconcilation” Henry Louis Gates Jr. reminds us that behind every civilization is a theme of barbarism. Similarly, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) alerted us that within every individual is a Dr. Jekyll (good) and a Mr. Hyde (bad). Skip Gates tries to deal with this dualism at the civilizational level. Stevenson handled it at the individual level. Dear Mr. Soyinka, Let me recapitulate a few Jekyll/Hyde contradictions about your open letter to me. You ask of me, you demand of me “decorum in handling colleagues”, yet you make this demand within the most indecorous diatribe to hit the Internet since the Gates debate began. Your recent unrestrained critique of me is full of false, dangerous, and libelous inaccuracies. You implicitly accuse me of being in support of the death-penalty fatwa issued by Imam Khomeini against Salman Rushdie when I am and have been an unrelenting opponent of capital punishment in all cases. You charge me with being an “academic Double-007 with license to libel” – while you serenely and falsely accuse me of once trying to incite your own assassination. How dare you! You demand of me “respect for the truth with regards to one’s colleagues” while you accuse me of publishing articles in Nigeria of which I have never heard: Articles that you claim were deliberately intended by me to add fuel to the flames of sectarianism in Nigeria! You accuse me of lying yet you yourself perpetrate one falsehood after another from Philadelphia to Kaduna. On the one hand, you claim to uphold high ethical standards, yet on the other you are willing to engage in the most scurrilous, uncivil and unsubstantiated attacks on my character. I. On Fatwas and Falsehoods Paranoia makes many African rulers tyrannical. Those who are paranoid think that those who disagree with them are trying to incite others to assassinate them. Paranoia must explain why Mr. Wole Soyinka both in 1992 and in 2000 implied that I was “diabolically” trying to encourage Northern Nigerian Muslims to eliminate him once and for all. Paranoid African dictators strip some of their rivals of citizenship. Mr. Soyinka, using his own tactics, has repeatedly tried to strip me of my Africanity. (Because he is not a chief of state, he does not have the legal power to strip me of my citizenship.) Furthermore, you have tried to strip me of democratic legitimacy in Western circles by portraying me as a Muslim fundamentalist in support of Iran’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie. In your public rantings against me, you have disgraced the meaning and the search for truth. Why? Being an inexact and careless scholar, Mr. Wole Soyinka thinks he knows what my position is with regard to Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa on Salman Rushdie. How far is Mr. Soyinka prepared to carry his Islamophobia? Mr. Soyinka’s first intellectual failing with regard to the Rushdie affair involves his failure to understand that critics of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses are not necessarily supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against him. This simple distinction is beyond this Nobel Laureate’s ability to grasp. I disliked Rushdie’s book intensely but I never have supported Iran’s fatwa against the author. I said that from my very first public statement about the Satanic Verses in a public lecture at Cornell University in 1989. The Iranians sentenced Rushdie to death. However, in my Cornell lecture I declared that I was against the death penalty not just when applied to Rushdie but when passed against anybody and for any offence whatsoever (a very unusual position for a Muslim to take publicly). My Cornell lecture has been widely disseminated, published in several different scholarly journals, and translated into other languages. And yet I am almost certain you, Mr. Wole Soyinka, you have never read it – otherwise you would not have continued to assume that my criticism of the book translated into my support of the fatwa and of the Iranian death penalty. Such rash and false conclusions are unworthy of you and are dangerous! Despite your lack of accuracy, you lecture others about “respect for the truth.” A young Egyptian in Philadelphia at the African Studies Association Conference this last November wanted to know if Skip Gates was to the black race what Salman Rushdie had been to the Muslims of the world – a “cultural traitor”. Unlike Mr. Wole Soyinka, the young Egyptian had done his homework on my writings (extensively, as it happens) and was challenging me if I would apply to RACE what I had applied to RELIGION – the concept of “cultural traitor.” Basically I told the young Egyptian that the concept did NOT apply to Skip Gates – since Gates was genuinely struggling with a dilemma and had not crossed to the other side (or words to that effect). I do not regard Skip as either a “cultural traitor” or a “racial traitor”. It seems that Wole Soyinka wants to create enmity between Skip Gates and me where none has existed so far. But please do not go about trying to inject poison into my relationships with other people! Skip and I are in serious disagreement about one particular project: “Wonders of the African World.” You promised to apologize publicly if you got this Philadelphia story wrong. You did get it wrong. If it is on tape, you will hear the real exchange. I shall await your public apology. In my criticism of Skip Gates’ “Wonders of the African World”, I found it incomprehensible that Professor Gates could fail to film in Nigeria, an undeniably crucial country. If Skip Gates’ reason for not filming in Nigeria was because Nigeria was under a reprehensible military dictator (Sani Abacha), why did Gates film in Sudan which was under a regime widely regarded at the time as morally more repugnant? This was precisely the question I had posed when I had criticized Gates for ignoring Nigeria. In any case, since Gates could film in Sudan and subsequently denounce Sudan’s policies towards the Nubians, Gates could have filmed in Abacha’s Nigeria and subsequently denounced Abacha’s human rights record in Gates’ “Wonders of the African World”! Gates could have filmed in Nigeria and still said nasty things about Abacha in the final TV product. In your critique of me, you mentioned Randall Robinson of TransAfrica as one of the African Americans you approve. I hope you will not change your mind about Randall Robinson when you learn about his reaction to Skip Gates’ “Wonders of the African World”. After having watched the series, Randall wrote to Skip with one ringing and eloquent verdict – “ SHAME ”! Perhaps you may like to publish Randall’s letter to Skip in your projected special issue of TRANSITION magazine. Randall’s letter is a miracle of brevity as a television review! Please get Randall’s permission to publish! Here is one person who was a crusader against President Sani Abacha – but Randall has also been disgusted by Henry Louis Gates’ “Wonders of the African World”. II. On Politics and Identity In a letter addressed to you in 1992, and copied to Skip Gates, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Henry Finder, I begged you to end the “fratricidal” warfare between us. I said that many younger African scholars and intellectuals were disturbed to see their elders in such brazen confrontations. I begged you to bury the hatchet. I attach a copy of that letter to this open memo as an appendix. Until the Gates TV series this last fall, I thought you had heeded my appeal. I had not seen any personal attacks on me in international publications since our debate in TRANSITION magazine in 1991-92. I thanked the Lord that two aging African intellectuals had indeed decided to bury the hatchet. Your Dr. Jekyll seemed triumphant. When “Wonders of the African World” hit the airwaves in the fall of 1999, our mutual friend Skip Gates – who had played such an important part in our reconciliation in 1991-1992 by allowing us to thrash out our differences in Transition – became the inadvertent cause of your new declaration of war on me in 1999 and 2000. This time you had decided to go for the jugular. You leave me no choice but to defend myself in the strongest possible terms. It is you who abandoned decorum first. Your Mr. Hyde is now alive and well. Your most despicable attack involved your questioning my Africanity. I do not need either your permission or your recognition to be an African. As a celebrated human rights campaigner, it is unworthy of you to be a champion of racial purity!! My African identity is not for you to bestow or withhold, dear Mr. Soyinka. You have been going around the world asserting that I am a religious bigot; I do not plan to go around the world saying that you are a racial bigot. Yet from your own statements about me I have more evidence of your racism than you have of my alleged religious bigotry. The idea that any African who has Arab blood needs special permission to remain an African is a new form of racism that Africans will not and cannot countenance. Or is your anti- Arabism a new form of anti-Semitism, given that Arabs too are Semites? You are on very dangerous ground. Did you know how the Nazi Holocaust gathered momentum? When Nazis were unsatisfied with whether or not German Jews were really German! The Nazis searched for Semites (Jews in this case) to eliminate them. Are you willing to play a similar, dangerous racial game? Mr. Soyinka, now you want to know whether certain Swahili families (like the Mazrui) are really African. Are you aware of what you are doing? For the Nazis Jews could not be German. For the Nazis it was not enough that a 70 year- old German Jew had been a patriotic German all his life. With mattered was that he was a Jew. Dear Mr. Soyinka, is it not enough that a near-70 year-old Ali Mazrui has been a patriotic African all his life? Is that insufficient? Are you insisting that what matters most about Mazrui is that his African blood is mixed with Arab blood, thereby making him less African or not an African at all? It is out of racist logic of this kind that such evils as ethnic cleansing and fascism are born. Do you want to be associated with such evils? Intending to exclude me as an African, you say “we, black Africans with no hangups . . .”! I am told that when my TV series first came out, you said “a TV series by a Black African is yet to be made”! In the United States they used to quantify how much “Negro blood” was necessary to make one a “Negro”. Have you decided on how much blood we need to fit your category of “Black Africans”? Does President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana (being technically half-white and half-black) belong to your category of “Black Africans”? How do you regard our distinguished poet, Dennis Brutus? If purity of race is your basis for defining who is an African, why did you ever boycott apartheid South Africa? It pains me that your racial paradigm has a lot in common with the kind of society the white racists there were trying to create. And yet I know you were trying your best to boycott South Africa and fight apartheid. Why spoil your record by appearing to be racist in your old age? Regarding my public criticism of Skip Gates’ “Wonders of the African World” at the ASA conference in Philadelphia in November 1999, you said I tried to destroy Skip Gates’ credibility as a scholar there. It is true that I was one of the strongest critics of his television series at the session in Philadelphia. On the other hand, I did try to get Professor Gates to come to Philadelphia to defend his TV series. Similarly, Professor Phil Curtin was invited to the ASA to defend his notorious letter to the Chronicle for Higher Education in 1995. Phil Curtin accepted the invitation; Skip Gates did not. If Gates himself could not come I had asked earnestly if Kwame Anthony Appiah could come to Philadelphia in his place. Both the President of ASA (Professor Lansine Kaba) and myself wanted Gates to “have his day in court” in Philadelphia. Those actions of mine were not the actions of someone who wanted to destroy Gates professionally. In your critique of me, you are offended that I spoke as Skip Gates’ elder brother. Was Skip himself offended by my brotherly tone or was Wole Soyinka pretending to be the offended voice of Skip regardless of Skip’s real feelings? Switching to the language of brotherhood is totally in the African tradition, my touching on the presumptive rights as an elder brother is also totally in the African tradition. Can we expect Mr. Soyinka to remember those African basics? The Nobel Prize can be intoxicating! There is one statement I made about “Wonders of the African World” that I am prepared to reconsider. Should the series be used at major centers of African studies in the country? At first I thought it should not be so used at all. But now I feel that at the graduate level there is room for a TV series which can generate so much debate. On the other hand, in high school and at the undergraduate level this advantage is outweighed by the principal negative message: that the main architects of the Atlantic slave trade were Africans themselves. This incorrect message is even more damaging to younger audiences. In order to challenge the false political and historical implications of “Wonders of the African World”, I did challenge Skip Gates to a debate in TRANSITION magazine. If you want TRANSITION to be a serious venue for a debate on Gates’ TV series you had better entrust that special issue to a GUEST EDITOR – someone other than Gates, Soyinka, Appiah or any employee of the magazine. The debate has now become so acrimonious that only a Guest Editor could have the necessary credentials for editorial impartiality. You personally have taken the debate to new depths of inexplicable animosity. III. On Images and the Media In your critique you say that you plan to answer a two-part article on Islam that was allegedly written by me and which appeared in a Nigerian newspaper. I know nothing about this article! It would help if you would send me copies of the article to prove your point. And if you are going to answer me in a Nigerian newspaper, it would help me if you sent me a copy of your response also. For the moment I have little option but to regard your allegations about the article as further proof that you may be prone to either an overactive imagination or poetic hallucinations!! When you write to express concern about Islamic militancy in Northern Nigeria, I hope you will not forget to express concern about ethno-cultural militancy in Southern Nigeria. Both trends are deeply worrying. Since you are a non-Muslim Nigerian, you are understandably worried about the rise of SHARIA based state (SHARIA-CRACY) in one Northern state after another. But non- Yoruba Nigerians (and the Yoruba President of the country Olusegun Obasanjo) are equally worried about some of the activities of the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) (ETHNOCRACY) in the South-West.. Those of us who genuinely love Nigeria are indeed worried by both trends. Have you compared which trend so far is costing more lives – SHARIA-CRACY in the North vs. ETHNOCRACY in the South-West? One more falsehood in your account about Nigerian newspapers and my relations with you. I did not send to the Northern Nigerian newspaper in 1992 “a specially selected part” of my article in which I ostensibly accused you of being “a hater of Islam”. I sent my ENTIRE article “Wole Soyinka as a Television Critic” to BOTH The Guardian in Lagos and The Democrat in Kaduna. Why did I seek to share that article with Nigerian audiences, both North and South? See my letter to you of 1992. (Copy attached here). Is it possible for an article of mine to be published in a newspaper abroad without my knowing anything about it? Of course it is. This was brought home to me when I was visiting Harare in Zimbabwe in January 2000. The lead-letter to the Editor in The Herald newspaper on January 19, 2000, said the following: “EDITOR – I was interested to read in The Herald of January 6, 2000 Professor Mazrui’s article titled ‘Globalization and Development’. He said ‘No country has ascended to first rank technological and economic power by exclusive dependency on a foreign language. Japan rose to amazing heights by ‘scientificating’ the Japanese language and making it a medium of instruction.” Until I saw that letter to the Editor, I had no idea that the Herald in Harare had carried any article of mine on any subject in a long time. And I might never have found out if I had not been in Harare on January 19, 2000. In other words, some of the articles I write become syndicated and are published in different countries of the world. The same article on language and globalization that appeared in Zimbabwe might also have appeared in Malaysia and Ghana, without my knowing about it. Do I really have to explain all this to a celebrity like you? Therefore, even if there was a “syndicated” article on Islam in a Nigerian newspaper by Ali Mazrui, it was not specially written for Nigeria. It follows therefore that your entire charge that I was deliberately fanning sectarian flames in Nigeria falls to the ground! After all, the article was written for a global audience and was never targeted at Nigeria. Alternatively, the Nigerian newspaper might have helped itself to a conference paper I presented in Edinburgh or Washington or Oxford. The newspaper might never have acknowledged the conference -- it just published my paper as if it were written for a Nigerian audience!! All these are wild guesses on my part and may be unfair to the Nigerian newspaper. But, dear Mr. Soyinka, you just bombard us with allegations as usual, with next to no hard information about either the articles or the newspaper in which they were published. Or is the whole story another instance of an active poetic imagination? In his 1999 Oxford-based mystery novel The Remorseful Day Colin Dexter makes a simple observation in chapter Four: “It is possible for persons to be friendly towards each other without being friends. It is also possible for persons to be friends without being friendly towards each other.” At the turn of the millennium Skip Gates and I have been friends without being friendly towards each other. I would like to believe that the cause of the unfriendliness has been localized and limited. It has been his television series, “Wonders of the African World”. Mr. Wole Soyinka, you have been trying to escalate the dispute. If you were to compare my criticism of Skip Gates to Martin Kilson’s “Master of the Intellectual Dodge”, Martin’s attack was far more devastating, going to the extent of implying financial impropriety and manipulation of colleagues by Gates. Now that you as Mr. Hyde have attacked me so viciously, should Martin Kilson brace himself for a similar counter-blast from you? Does anything I have said which allegedly questions Gates’ professional credibility even remotely compare with Martin’s merciless exposé of Gates? Are you going to abuse Martin Kilson next? Or do you, Mr. Soyinka, choose your adversaries with careful circumspection and cautious self- interest? (Forgive me, Martin, my friend of over 30 years standing, but I do need to know how this man chooses his victims!) IV. Soyinka’s “Martyrdom” and Mazrui’s Nigeria I do go to Nigeria to lecture almost every year. It may surprise you to know that the people who invite me are not “Muslim fundamentalists.” In 1999 my lecture was sponsored by General Olusegun Obasanjo (President-elect) and his political party. My co- lecturer on the same platform was the late President Julius K. Nyerere. To the best of my memory neither Nyerere nor myself referred to Islam. If we did it was part of a concern for religious reconciliation. In 1998 my main host in Nigeria was the Institute of Governance and Social Research in Jos headed by Professor Jonah Isawa Elaigwu. My lecture was also sponsored by the University of Jos. Again my presentation had almost nothing to do with Islam nor were my Nigerian hosts Muslims. In the year 2000 I am expected in Nigeria three times. On the first occasion my hosts will be bankers, entrepreneurs, and insurers, almost none of whom are interested in a lecture on Islamic fundamentalism. They have asked me to lecture on a developmental subject. On my second Nigerian visit my hosts are explicitly interested in my Black civilizational credentials as contrasted with my Islamic civilizational credentials. My agenda is “Black Civilization in the New Millennium”. My third probable visit to Nigeria in the year 2000 is likely to focus on the theme “Comparative Civil-Military Relations: African and Latin American.” This will be a conference rather than a lecture. On this occasion my Institute is likely to be a co-sponsor of the conference. What does all this information tell us? My relations with Nigeria are not, repeat not, sectarian. The relations have continued to involve all ethnic and religious groups. These Nigerian brothers and sisters have been prepared to raise my airfares and hotel accommodation costing thousands of dollars time and time again, just to hear me. Would they have done so if my message was divisive and sectarian? You say to me: “Please do not dye your mourning weeds deeper than the indigo of the bereaved”! Were you not the man I invited to East Africa in 1972, gave you a platform in Nairobi from which to speak, introduced you to a Ugandan living in Uganda as your Chair for your lecture? You knew that Idi Amin killed people on the basis of guilt by association. You insensitively and cruelly endangered the life of your chairman by denouncing Idi Amin while the Ugandan (going back to Uganda) presided. From the audience I was so scared for your chairman (Tony Gingyera- Pinycwa) that I sent him a note urging him to vacate the Chair while you were still speaking – and offering to occupy the Chair myself. I was appalled that I had exposed Tony to an insensitive Wole Soyinka by asking Tony to chair your Lecture and endangering Tony’s life! If you were so brave why did you not go to denounce Idi Amin in Kampala, Uganda, instead of risking the lives of Ugandans from Nairobi, Kenya? Tony Gingyera-Pinycwa was a brave man. He rejected my offer to replace him as Chair, while Soyinka played the anti-Amin card at the risk of somebody else’s life. Tony survived Idi Amin – but it was no thanks to Mr. Wole Soyinka!! On that occasion who was dyeing his mourning weeds deeper than the indigo of the bereaved? You address me as someone totally alien to Nigeria. Let me educate you about my credentials. I have biological sons who are Nigerians. I have a wife who is a Nigerian. I have a mother (or mother-in-law) who has lived with us in America who is Nigerian, and who is back in Jos. I have my wife’s siblings (male and female) who are Nigerians and live in Nigeria. I have their children (my Nigerian nephews and nieces) who are in Nigeria. Maybe you have not heard that families are created by marriage as well as blood. My family relationships with Nigeria have been created by both marriage and blood. Do not lecture me about my not “dyeing my mourning weeds deeper than the indigo of the bereaved.” I am the bereaved! There is a saying in Kiswahili: “Asiejua shemegi yake hamjui ndugu yake.” (He who does not know his in-law does not really know his sibling). Dear Mr. Soyinka, are you sure you understand family? It is, after all, another phenomenon of collective love – something you have found difficult to grasp. You shrink from loving those who are culturally very dissimilar. No wonder you are alienated from Northern Nigerians. V. The Politics of Ancestry I am descended from both slave-owners and slaves. Am I different from Skip Gates? Am I different from half the population of African Americans who have slave- owners (not just slaves) among their ancestors? Am I different from Malcom X, W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr.? Each of those had slave-owners, as well as slaves, among their ancestors – as do half the population of Black America, if not more. Why, dear Wole, do you regard me as different? Please spell out. Now is the time. How early in my life did I identify with the African side of my ancestry? My answer is that I became a Pan-Africanist as soon as I became politically conscious in colonial Kenya. By the time I was an undergraduate at the University of Manchester in England I was Pan-African enough to be elected President of the African Students’ Association, leading a membership which included Nigerians, Ghanaians as well as East Africans. They all looked to me for leadership. As an African I never looked back. I do not need Wole Soyinka’s stamp of confirmation that I am an African. My identity is in my blood, my ancestry, my history, my commitment, my life. If I was somebody constantly looking for approval from people who were “blacker” than me, I would have kept a low profile instead of becoming a controversial African political analyst. If I was looking for the stamp of approval from governments which were “blacker” than me, I would not have challenged Milton Obote and Idi Amin of Uganda, Daniel arap Moi of Kenya or Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania. Obote was sometimes tempted to detain me or expel me; Idi Amin eventually wished he had eliminated me; and Julius Nyerere was in recurrent debates with me. Moi does not know what to do with me. And yet none of the politicians have tried to dis-Africanize me – unlike Wole! What a pity! Why do you descend to ethnic politics? Mr. Soyinka, your interpretation of my behaviour as a human being is so simplistic that it does not do justice to you as a writer and intellectual. Shall I tell you how I would have behaved if I wanted to live down my ancestry and play to the gallery of those who claim to be “purely Black”? First and foremost, I would not have used the name “MAZRUI” as my surname. Since surnames are a Western tradition, I could have used instead the name of my father or grandfather as my surname. There are other members of the Mazrui clan who have chosen to do without the Mazrui name, including some very distinguished Kenyans. They have thus disguised their ancestry. The name “Mazrui” is well-established in East African history. By CHOOSING it as my surname, I decided I could be an African without denying my historic ancestry. That was not a sign of guilt-ridden opportunism. Secondly, if in the post colonial era I wanted to play down the Arab side of my descent, I would avoid the Arabs. I have done nothing of the kind. Although I have both Arab friends and Arab relatives, they treat me as their AFRICAN relative. I lecture about Africa in the Arab world, and often wear a kente scarf instead of an Arab turban when I speak in the Middle East. I do not try to affirm my Africanity by rejecting my Arab relatives. Is that a sign of guilt-ridden opportunism? Thirdly, I came from an African country where Muslims are a minority (Kenya). If I wanted to play to the dominant Christo-secular gallery in Kenya, I would not choose to be highly visible as a spokesperson for Muslim minorities. Indeed, I would not choose to become one of the most highly visible Islamicist scholars from Africa. I have chosen not to affirm my Africanity by hiding my Islamicity. Is that a sign of guilt-ridden opportunism? I have never worried about religious tolerance from followers of African traditional religion. I have said time and again that I regarded the indigenous tradition as the most ecumenical of Africa’s triple heritage. Mr. Soyinka, you have not read my writings. You do not have to. But do not pretend you know anything about what I stand for. If you had only seen my TV series, or read the companion book The Africans: A Triple Heritage, you would know that I repeatedly give full credit to the tolerance and ecumenical spirit of Africa’s traditional religion. It is a pity you like to attack a TV series you have never seen (like mine) and defend some other TV series before you have ever watched it (like Gates’). If you have to be judgmental, I can think of more rational ways of evaluating television series than your idiosyncratic methods. Fourthly, if I was insecure about my Africanity and was afraid of the disapproval of the so-called “pure Black Africans”, I would have kept a low political profile in the sub-region of Africa where I belong. Let me repeat. I would not have gone around either irritating or infuriating powerful “Black African” Presidents in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. I certainly would not have engaged in public debates on sensitive policies with Milton Obote when he was in power in Uganda. On one occasion he attacked me in a presidential speech in the Uganda Parliament – but he never used a single ethnic epithet against me. To the credit of all those African politicians, they never questioned my Africanity. They knew more about the Mazrui in history than you do. They certainly did not make their recognition of my Africanity dependent on my good behaviour, as you seem to be doing. Our East African leaders might have had many faults, but (apart from Idi Amin with regard to Indians) they were less “racially purist” in public posture than Mr. Wole Soyinka. I spoke my mind and criticized their faults. Was that the behaviour of an insecure guilt-ridden Arab opportunist? My relationship with Idi Amin had its ups and downs. But even when I criticized his policy towards Uganda Indians, he never questioned my Africanity. Like you, I have interacted with the high and mighty in politics, diplomacy, the military, high society as well as academia. But unlike you, I am a minor player and could easily have been brushed aside in ethnic terms. Yet as far as I know only you, Bioden Jayefo and William Ochieng (a Moi academic supporter in Kenya) have ever publicly played the ethnic card against me. Yours is an exclusive club of three racial purists among African intellectuals! Congratulations!! When President Idi Amin in Uganda did not like the challenge of Frank Kalimuzo, he said Kalimuzo was not a Ugandan. Amin later killed Kalimuzo. When Frederick Chiluba, President of Zambia, did not like the challenge of Kenneth Kaunda, Frederick Chiluba said Kaunda was not a Zambian. When President Konan-Bedie of the Ivory Coast did not like the challenge of Alassane O. Outtara, the incumbent president said the challenger was not Ivorian. Similarly when Wole Soyinka does not like the challenge of Ali Mazrui, Wole Soyinka says that Ali Mazrui is not an African!! Can you imagine? How different is Soyinka from the likes of Idi Amin, Frederick Chiluba, and Konan-Bedie apart from the fact that Soyinka does not control the state apparatus? The authoritarianism in Kongi Soyinka is unmistakable! VI. CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS Let me paraphrase from the 2nd Earl of Birkenhead (1872-1933): Soyinka: You are extremely offensive, aging Mazrui! Mazrui: As a matter of fact, we both are. The only difference is that I am trying to be offensive, while you can’t help being offensive! At least your Mr. Hyde can’t! I can fully understand why Mr. Soyinka would want to defend Gates. But until this latest dirty exchange between Soyinka and myself, I have never been sure why he was so hostile towards me. The Southern Sudanese scholar, Dr. Dunstan Wai, called these symptoms “MAZRUIPHOBIA”. But a more elaborate psychiatric explanation for Soyinka’s “Mr. Hyde” mentality and his animosity towards me personally comes from another distinguished Nigerian literary figure. (“Soyinka, their Soyinka”). According to this literary critic, there was one coincidence in 1986 which was bound to disturb a mind as proud as Wole’s. Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize and Ali Mazrui aired the first global TV series by an African both in 1986. For at least a few months as many people discussed Ali Mazrui’s TV series as refered to Soyinka’s Nobel Prize. This was intolerable to Soyinka’s monopolistic pride, especially since Ali Mazrui was a Muslim. Soyinka did not want to share the limelight even for a few months with an African Muslim! Mr. Hyde was possessive in any case about the limelight! But my being a Muslim was the last straw. So Soyinka (or his Hyde) embarked on a crusade to demean and denounce my TV series. That campaign of yours is fully documented. You turned against me from 1986. You called me a born-again Islamic fundamentalist because I had dared to share the limelight very briefly with you in 1986. Kwame Nkrumah would be uneasy in his grave if he thought his children (whose mother was Egyptian) were vulnerable to the intolerance of racial purists. Mr. Soyinka reportedly resents President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana because Rawlings was at one time on friendly terms with President Sani Abacha of Nigeria. Mr. Soyinka, are you sure that the real reason for your anti- Rawlings stand is not the fact that Rawlings is only half Black? What is worse for Rawlings in your eyes – having been pro-Abacha or having had a Scottish father? You ask why I mention my different professorships whenever I publish or circulate anything academic or professional written by me. I hope my reasons are as good as Skip Gates’ reasons for wearing a Harvard T-shirt from one African township to another. Since you have asked me why I mention my universities, have you asked Skip why he wears his Harvard T-shirts before cameras? In my case I mention all the schools that have honored me partly to avoid having to choose which one to associate myself with publicly. Secondly, one or two of the schools which have honored me are very young and could do with the exposure that I and other faculty give them. But Harvard is too distinguished to need Skip Gates’ T-shirts as a publicity-stunt. Nevertheless, I respect Skip’s loyalty to his university. Why not? I am not sure why you make such a fuss about my original cautious note at the outset of the Gates’ debate that since I had myself done a television series on Africa, I was hesitant about entering the debate about Gates. My hesitation was not in the least ethical or moral – anymore than I would regard it as unethical to review a book about Africa simply because I had written twenty books of my own. My original hesitation about going public with my reservations about Gates was a matter of prudence. Was it wise to review Gates’ TV series (not was it “ethical”)? My conscience remains completely at peace with itself on that issue. On the other hand, was it “wise” to risk being bruised by the likes of Wole Soyinka? Was it “wise” to risk having one’s motives so deliberately distorted? That question of wisdom and prudence still remains. Is comparing Gates to Garvey a hyperbole? I certainly hope so! I certainly hope that the negative impact of Gates on Pan-Africanism is not as lasting as the positive impact of Marcus Garvey. But who is to know? Marcus Garvey died almost a pauper in 1940. Few people thought his influence would be long lasting. And yet in 1999 the natural scientists of Africa (chemists, biologists, and physicists) gave him a posthumous Distinguished Award for his services to Africa. The African Academy of Science gave this award at their conference in Tunisia in April, 1999. I was designated to receive the award in Tunisia on behalf of the family of Marcus Garvey. I also gave the acceptance speech. I brought the award back to the United States and handed it over to Dr. Julius Garvey, Marcus Garvey’s son. Receiving the Garvey Award on behalf of his family was one of my great honours of the 20th century. And yet this man, Marcus Garvey, died almost a pauper and in obscurity sixty years ago. Skip Gates is not a pauper, and may the Lord grant him continuing prosperity. Skip has remarkable access to the highest echelons of the Western media. Is it really that far-fetched to envisage a scenario in which Skip Gates would leave his mark on Black perspectives? If Skip does become a major historical figure, I hope his impact will be much healthier than that of “Wonders of the African World”. Skip may not himself be encyclopedic, but he is controlling encyclopedias! Garvey had no such mechanisms of dissemination. You are right that in 1999 I wrote far too often in the Gates debate. But the frequency of my interventions was neither a crusade nor a jihad. Originally I envisaged three interventions in all – my first one (“The Preliminary Critique”); secondly, a reply to the hundreds of Internet participants who responded to my “Critique”; and thirdly, my response to Gates himself in his rebuttal of my arguments. What provoked additional responses from me was not Gates himself but Biodun Jeyifo and his startlingly personal attacks on me. I thought B.J. singularly lacked “decorum” and brazenly lacked “proportion”. But that was before you lately joined the debate. The vitriol of your latest onslaught!! You used to combine rudeness with art. Now there is only rudeness. Alas, the pity of it!! Dear Mr. Soyinka, you clearly have no idea what the concept of collective love means. If someone sincerely says “I love my people” of course he or she includes those who have fallen from grace as well as those who strive for perfection. Likewise, when I said “I love Black America”, I did not simply mean I loved the Randall Robinsons and the Martin Luther Kings. I also meant I loved those on death row, and the millions of others damaged by history. I also loved simply those whose views or values I regarded as fundamentally wrong. That is what loving a whole people means, Mr. Soyinka. Even patriotism means loving the saints and the sinners. Obviously collective love to you means discarding Carole Mosely-Brown and Roy Innis and anybody else who does not put the latest dictator in Africa at the centre of their global and universal moral code. We cannot abuse our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora by the yardstick of whether or not they are polite to Daniel arap Moi or some other African tyrant. Before harassing African Americans who had dealings with Sani Abacha, have you resolved never to speak to hundreds of thousands of fellow Nigerians who had many more extensive dealings with Abacha? In December 1992 I wrote to you a letter and begged you to stop quarrelling with me. I said: “I would like to return to the normality which once characterized our relationship. Younger Africans look up to us as intellectual elders. We have lately been disturbing their peace of mind . . . . If you would stop abusing me in public, we could be friends and serve our people better.” (See Appendix) Instead you have opened the new millennium with your new HATE MAIL! The pity of it; yes, the pity of it! Please re-read my 1992 plea for reconciliation that is attached here. Each time you have attacked me, it has been totally unprovoked. You slapped me last evening; I am slapping you this afternoon. Even if you and I cannot be friends, can we at least end this public brawl? If it will keep the peace between us, I will even settle for the aphorism of Thomas Szasz (The Second Sin, 1973): The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget. Let us settle for the silent wisdom of forgiving even if we cannot forget. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY P.O. Box 6000; Binghamton, New York, 13902-6000 607/777-4494; Fax 607/777-2642 December 2, 1992 Ali A. Mazrui Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities Institute of Global Cultural Studies Professor Wole Soyinka Chair of the Editorial Board Transition 1430 Massachusetts Avenue, 4th floor Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 1992 PLEA FOR RECONCILIATION Dear Wole: We missed you in November at the African Studies meetings in Seattle. Many people were disappointed that you were not able to come. I hope you are well (health- wise). We were concerned. Upon my return from Seattle I found Transition No. 57. I do appreciate your desire to put an end to this fratricidal warfare between you and me, though your concept of giving me “the last word” seemed a little ambivalent! You allowed yourself a couple of additional pages of entirely new accusations of “diabolical” proportions. The Democrat newspaper in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, is not my “mouthpiece”. I respect the newspaper. But even before I alerted The Democrat, I had alerted The Guardian in Southern Nigeria (through Dr. Olatunji Dare) that I was about to answer Wole Soyinka’s repeated attacks on me and my TV series. Given that you had been attacking my TV series since at least 1988, it was a fair assumption that some of your attacks were made within Nigeria. When I finally wrote my response for readers of Transition, I wanted to alert Nigerians also of what I had to say in my defence. I therefore alerted The Guardian in the South and The Democrat in the North about the Transition debate and where I stood. As you may know, The Guardian had lead-time since I was their 1991 Distinguished Anniversary Public lecturer. I tipped The Guardian off about the impending Transition debate!! Was that also “diabolical”, to use your word? On the basis purely of your own reaction, I deduce that The Guardian ignored my disagreement with you, while the northern Nigerian newspaper, The Democrat, did not. Did the former publish nothing while the latter published my defence? Is that what happened? I had nothing to do with which newspaper published what. Indeed, I still have not seen what you say The Democrat published. The Democrat did not send me a copy of what they had used. They did not consult me before going to press. Above all, I am not guilty of trying to incite Northern Nigerian Muslims against their distinguished compatriot, as you seem to suggest. Heavens forbid. Nothing “diabolical” was conspired. Are The Guardian and The Democrat the only newspapers I alerted about the Soyinka/Mazrui debate? As you know, I am myself a Kenyan. I have written articles from time to time for the Sunday Nation in Nairobi. I alerted the Sunday Nation about my defence against your original charges. The paper made its own selection of what to publish. I had nothing to do with what the newspaper selected. (However, it was good East African publicity for Transition! Definitely nothing “diabolical” there!) You refer to a “Satanic Trilogy” - presumably omitting both your original article in Transition No. 51 which provoked my response, and your final two-pages in Transition No. 57 implying a diabolical conspiracy between a Kenyan Muslim and a Northern Nigerian Newspaper. Clearly you do not think your original charges were “Satanic”? Nor do you Satanise your final two pages (after allegedly letting me have “the last word”). Alas, our differences in perception are about more than a mere television series. I, the victim of unfounded charges, is turned into the culprit of a “Satanic” debate. Wole, nothing would please me more than to put all this fratricide behind us. But it does not help when you come up with new allegations in every new response. By all means let us stop arguing in the columns of Transition. But what can I say in semi-private correspondence to convince you that (a) I am not an intolerant religious fanatic (b) my TV series does not denigrate indigenous African culture © I am as African as you are and (d) I have not entered into a conspiracy with The Democrat to incite Northern Nigerian Muslims against you? (In any case, I do not regard Nigerian Muslims as fanatics waiting to be incited! But I do agree that Nigeria as a whole has a sectarian problem.) I would like to return to the normality which once characterized our relationship. Younger Africans look up to us as intellectual elders. We have lately been disturbing their peace of mind with our quarrels. If you would stop abusing me in public, we could be friends and serve our people better. Best wishes of the season and Happy New Year to you and to your loved ones. Yours sincerely, Ali A. Mazrui, D.Phil., (Oxon) Director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies
  14. Wole Soyinka Dear Ali Mazrui You are of course an adept at the anticipatory deflection tactics. You are practised in the craft of crying “Foul” even before the stone that was first cast by you ricochets and turns you into a target. You know full well that the sustained intensity of your attack on the Gates’ series would sooner or later lead to a questioning of the originator, and his motivation. Was I surprised when, in your response to Biodun Jeyifo, you accused him of trying to shift the focus of discussion from Skip Gates to Ali Mazrui? I could not help smiling to myself; it was all so predictable. But as Jeyifo responded, it is you yourself, as always, that make such an outcome inevitable. You bring it on yourself, since you have never yet learnt to take the ego of Ali Mazrui out of straightforward, intellectual exchanges. What is truly behind this single-minded but relentless pursuit, on that gives a new meaning to Leavis’ The Critical Pursuit? Credibly an avowal of love for the black race? – “not because I love you less, but that I love Black America more” (Urgh!). Or is it some purpose far less corny but no less stomach- churning? What stake does Mazrui have in the reception (positive or negative) of the Gates’ series? Why does he resolutely ignore the genre of the series, and thus its aesthetic options, its presentational mode, which of course is a de rigeur consideration for any serious critic of the video arts, made for a wide but varied audience - as much intended for “leisure viewing” as for enlightenment? Why does Mazrui distort, extrapolate, slander, indeed - lie, yes, lie - against the actual content of the series? We shall not bother with evaluation, of the attribution of ideological impulses - these remain fair terrain of exploration for the critic but are also, quite often predictably subjective. Why, above all, has Ali Mazrui turned this into a personal, relentless crusade - jihad, lest I be accused of eurocentricity! - a battle taken into town meetings, extended into radio interviews and insinuated into literary conferences? Your Millennial epistle, one that cynically invites a conclusion to the “dialogue” with your own summary, repetition and even further expansion of earlier pronouncements, narrates the travails of THE AFRICANS and your own experience at the hands of unenlightened, or simply misunderstanding groups of critics. You do not appear to have learnt the right lesson from that experience; on the contrary, you are determined to take upon yourself, single- handed, the combined roles of these varied ideological detractors of THE AFRICANS. Why are you, Ali Mazrui so evidently resolved to demonize Skip Gates, to accuse and convict him, in effect, of race treachery? Whenever the dispute appeared to slacken off, you could be trusted to find an excuse to stoke up the flames of cyber space, taking the discussion to new depths of absurdity, of distortions, of sheer - no other expression for it - syruppy malevolence – “I am prepared to believe that you think like a write like a distinguished author....your natural brilliance.....Nature has made you a great wit, but......!” You permit yourself, Mazrui even the perverse pleasure of falling through the trap door of a passing era, to invoke the Millennial spirit yet ensure that this dispute follows us into a new era - why? Of all the hyperboles that I have ever encountered in the world of criticism, or historic projections, none has been so gratuitous, so arrogant and self- preening as your proposition that: is conceivable that your television series is the most serious threat to relations between Africa and African Americans since the United States authorities destroyed Marcus Garvey’s movement in 1922 with Garvey indictment for mail fraud This surely, represents the outer limits of afflatus and presumptuousness, of a total loss of perspective and sense of proportion. You quote Alexander Pope; a pity yet again that you do not recall Pope’s deep contempt for humbug, and his fulminations against what he termed “enthusiasm” - that is, the lack of a sense of proportion, of balance. We may permit ourselves to think of a pyrotechnic who sets fire to a warehouse of disused tyres. It smoulders on for days and weeks and months, as with such fires that give off lots of smoke, stench and pollution, expends the time and energy of relays of firemen seeking in vain for a source, casts a pall, indeed a smokescreen indeed over the entire city, sets off an epidemic of pulmonary and allied diseases etc. etc. Then our little man goes around with a billboard round his neck proclaiming that he has set off the greatest conflagration of the century. At least the nerd in that sit-com whose name I cannot recall has the bewildered grace to coin the refrain “Did I do that?” after each comic - not cosmic - disaster. Just what is happening to Ali Mazrui, and how much longer are we to be afflicted by this ingenious smokescreen that has induced so much phlegm, distorted so much vision, generated so much heat but has offered scant illumination? I am on record as cautioning you - from your very first salvo – to disqualify yourself from this debate. Oh yes, I know that I now stand poised to be accused by you of attempting to deprive you of your freedom of expression but, I shall not rehash those arguments here, though I am willing to take them up in another place. In any case, you yourself did concede the possibility of inappropriateness of your participation in, or more accurately, of your inauguration of the assault, so you do admit it is a debatable issue. The African American world that you love so much is not without minds as perceptive and pens as articulate as yours, and you certainly should have left the field of demolition to others. You have a vested interest in the failure of the series, and you cannot escape the charge of self-promotion – and please do not reduce this, as you have tried to do in your Millennial encyclical, to dollars and cents. There is what we call the marketplace of ideas, of authority and reputation, an arena in which the instruments of competition often prove far more deadly, and are wielded far more unscrupulously than in the struggle over material goods. My charge of self-interest has become even more sustainable after your clear demonstration of a lack of professional self-discipline and lack of fidelity to facts in this crusade, your rabble-rousing tactics, suitably smothered in treacly accents of pain, sorrow and thwarted admiration. I am more than gratified that you have yourself evoked the spectre of your performance at the ASA conference in Philadelphia; I have sent for a tape recording of that event, since I do want to obtain the direct flavour of the atmosphere that has been conveyed to me by quite a number of colleagues who witnessed your performance, one or two of whom, while sharing some of your views on the Gates’ series, were troubled by your obsessive need to bring down a colleague and render him a racial pariah within his intellectual community. There is still something called decorum even within the dog-eat-dog politics of academia - it is my view that you have long abandoned the constraints of that word, which of course goes beyond a mere word and defines a code of conduct. The result of your lack of professional self-discipline - rushing to rubbish on a “preliminary” basis, a work that, from planning to final execution has taken at least a year of intense research as well as creative labour, a gruelling process with which you are yourself very familiar - has been a cruel revelation -not of the maker of the series, but of Ali Mazrui. What has become glaring is that you have sought to buttress a private warfare with a series of deliberate falsifications that should shame any claimant to disinterested criticism. We shall proceed to examine some of these. It so happened that, a few days before your “preliminary” review, I attended the event that was, in effect, the formal outing of the series. This was in Boston where I was able to see the clip of the “clitoridectomy” sequence. Later of course came your outburst in which you accused Professor Gates of calling its practitioners “barbarians.” (Oh, I know how you phrased that accusation, so shall we save each other the trouble and change my “accused” to “insinuated”? Just leave it as evidence the smear tactics with which we are so familiar?) When I read that comment, I immediately telephoned Skip Gates. Was there another section of the series in which he returned to the subject, during which he used such an expression? Skip’s response was exactly the same as he has detailed in his own “preliminary” response. What he actually said was that the practice was barbaric. Now, we all use the same medium of the English language in which, you Professor Ali Mazrui, multiple chair-holder in numerous institutions and triple Professor-at- Large, must be considered an adept. I certainly do not consider it merely incidental that you should have chosen to insinuate that Skip Gates employed a loaded, emotive, “euro- attitudinal” derogatory expression. This was no careless or sloppy listening. You were consciously playing the race- emotive card, and deliberately manipulating the responses of your black readership. I find this not merely dishonest, but intellectually criminal. There are millions of people in the world who hold the view that the tradition of slitting the throat of a ram, considered central to the African ritual of sacrifice, as well as Moslem and Jewish usage, is barbaric. Will you next claim that this accuses the holder of such an opinion as describing the practitioners as barbarians? And what do we make of your descent into outright defamation: “The Ghanaians I have spoken to since Gates’ television series are convinced that the Ghanaian guide at the slave fort was given an “inducement” to blame the slave trade on Africans.” There is no other word for this desecration of critical discourse - it is simply contemptible. Only an agenda outside the merits and demerits of the material in question could have driven a university professor to stoop to such low tactics in his attempt to discredit a colleague by ascribing to him such a despicable recourse in order to buttress a point of view. Since then of course, we have been presented with testimonies - uncontested by you - to the effect that the statement credited to the Ghanaian emerged from the guide’s regular tourist rap, and was not delivered to the filming crew alone. Do tell us, did Professor Gates also travel to Ouidah in the neighbouring Republic of Benin earlier that same year to “induce” President Kerekou to make the pronouncement which I had posted, without comment for this debate? I cite just a portion of it to refresh your memory: The Head of State.....asked the forgiveness of all Africans of the Diaspora, highlighting the responsibility of Africans in the betrayal of the Black race which he described as shameful, as a crime against humanity, and as abominable. Kerekou went on to propose a “Grand International Conference of Forgiveness and Reconciliation on the eve of the Year 2000.” Those who remained in Africa, he insisted, “have a duty to ask for forgiveness.” Just how much did Skip Gates pay Kerekou to say those words, and would Gates have been within his rights to interview Matthew Kerekou, if he had known of the Colloque at Ouidah at which that pronouncement was made This was another moment for you to have retreated. A critic with an iota of self-discipline would have realized that he had crossed the bounds of propriety - but not the great Ali Mazrui, the academic Double-O7 with licence to libel. It is either we abandon all pretence to civilised discourse completely or we demand a certain minimum standard of respect for one another - oh yes, I know that the word ‘disrespect’ is very much in vogue especially in the Mazrui armoury of indictments. This and that is ‘disrespectful’ of our continent, of our culture, of our brothers and sisters. But we are speaking, for now, about a far more manageable territory of respect - respect for truth with regards to one’s colleagues. Avoidance of cheap gossip or sleazy fabrications in order to paint a colleague in mercenary colours. That is a wide enough territory for a beginning. Dear Ali Mazrui, you refer to yourself - that familiar Ali Amazrui condescending signature - as “a senior and elder Africanist” of Professor Gates. And again in this latest communication, you describe yourself as “an old man and your elder brother” in relation to your victim. I regret to inform you that your conduct over these series has been more one of an ageing minotaur afflicted by muscular dystrophy, thrashing about in a self-created maze of confusions. Africanist you may be but - mentally African? I wonder. And this is because the elder’s position in most African cultures that I know of - mine, very definitely - precludes the market mother from leading the prayer against a rival, invoking the gods to guarantee, in effect, “May your wares find no buyer on the market.” The coy preamble to this blasphemous prayer only made the event even more distatesful: “I know that maybe I should not be involved in passing judgement in this case, but.....!” The quintessential Uriah Heep! The beginning and end of your supplication are summed up in the passsage: “I have no doubt that there is a significant market for ‘Wonders of the African world’, but probably not at many African Studies Centres in major U.S. Universities” (my emphasis). You raised the issue of markets yourself, and thank goodness you always manage to give yourself away. Defend your turf by all means, but do not subsume your real objectives under any Ralph Naderite championship of the consumers’ health and bill of rights. There is only one other series by an African or Africa/American “Africanist” contending for attention in those markets - of popular or “academic” authority - and that erstwhile monopoly is held by none other than you. Have you offered the public apology that you guaranteed you would if your accusation against Gates that he was against Reparations was proved wrong? Of course not. Mazrui may know the word, he does not understand the gesture of apology or its meaning. An apology is a product of grace, of humility but not of self-abasement. It does not diminish; on the contrary it confers integrity. It also carries with it the burden of avoidance of the initial error, of greater caution in negotiating the minefield that originally blew up in one’s face. As with many other careless, or deliberate distortions or Gates’ views, this one has been easily exploded with verifiable evidence. But why was the error committed in the first place? Why was it necessary to attempt to foist on Skip Gates a position that he has never held, never articulated? Simply for the gratification of somehow equating Skip Gates with the arch-conservative Jesse Helms and the self- hating Keith Richburg. Your capacity for yoking incompatibles is already notorious but, in this instance, you have truly excelled yourself. In a moment, I shall demonstrate that you are in fact closer to Jesse Helms than you attempted to make Skip Gates appear. Tears from a Consummate Crocodile But first I must frontally address the question, preferably as you confront your mirror: who, or what is Ali Mazrui? Who is this scholar who feels the need to precede every communication - snail mail, email, faxes, newsletters etc. - with a bunting of his academic positions - triple Professor-at-large, all meticulously detailed, plus Emeritorial and Distinguished Scholar hats piled one on top of another - giving off the image of an insecure salesman of dubious intellectual wares? Since you are constantly into politics - politics of race, politics of culture and even politics of history - it is time that you frankly demand of yourself - what exactly are your politics? Fortunately, you have yourself offered many public cues, but are you truly conscious of the summation they offer? Here follows what has provoked this interrogation. Of the many astonishing interjections involved in your wholesale resolve to undermine any and every aspect of this series – including what is not there - a quite legitimate exercise, since this involves editorial choices - I find myself personally aggravated by your reaction to a question in Philadelphia referring to Gates’ omission of Nigeria in the series and his reason for doing so. Skip Gates had of course stated quite clearly on several occasions that he would not film in Nigeria because of the political situation there at the time, specifically citing the fact that the writer Ken Saro-wiwa had been hanged by Sani Abacha after a travesty of judicial process that was roundly condemned by the entire world - African governments included - we need to emphasize that, to anticipate charges of western conspiracies! Among such leaders of integrity, let us simply mention Nelson Mandela. Skip Gates also referred to this Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka, a personal friend and former teacher, who had been forced into exile, placed on trial in absentia for alleged treason with a price placed on his head. At this rapid execution panel which – we have to take your word for it, I suppose - was convened independently of your will - during the ASA meeting in Philadelphia, you contemptuously dismissed Skip Gates’ right to invoke such a political and personal judgement. Even your captive audience found your response so glib and ridiculous that they laughed. Your supporters were embarrassed. Next perhaps, we shall be instructed that the campaign for the cultural and sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa was wrong, that the province of Art and scholarship should remain sacrosant and impervious to any political considerations. Now, this time frankly employing your favoured process of extended sequiturs - just to give you a taste of your own medicine - our revered Professor Ali Mazrui must now be counted as the soulmate of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, Hastings Banda etc. etc. - all those reactionary rationalisers black and white, who insisted that a cultural boycott of a tyrannical regime was wrong-headed and counter-productive. Dennis Brutus was wrong, Nelson Mandela and the ANC were wrong, the galaxy of principled playwrights, film stars, singers and other artistes of every genre were wrong. American universities which proceeded to disinvest in South Africa were of course wrong and the krugerrand should have been allowed free circulation in the world of commerce. Your ’fatwa’ Predisposition My reports indicate that you gave a performance that was worthy of the fundamentalist culture that has become a scourge in the body of most worthwhile religions in contemporary times. From the floor came the question: should we now declare an “infantida” - or was it pronounce a “fatwa”? (my informants were somewhat uncertain about which it was but were agreed that it was one or the other) - should an infantida/fatwa 1 be promulgated against Skip Gates. That question was of course an inevitable product of your inflammatory zeal and lynch- mob rhetoric. Your answer, Professor Mazrui, was a kind of generous concession that it need not go that far. Skip, you are quoted as saying, was your friend, that you were really good friends despite disagreements, and that you were not really advocating such extreme measures against him. Need I tell you that my white hairs crackled with static electricity during the narration of this episode? (Despite the fact that this is intended for private circulation - private, along the parameters of the family quantification of Ali Mazrui - I shall apologise to you openly if you can produce reliable witnesses who testify to the contrary.) I do believe this account of your reaction however both because of the absolute reliability of my informants – far more credible than your mythical Ghanaians, and because I have had a personal encounter of this nature with you in the past. Do you recall how you took the trouble to transfer to the pages of the local newspapers in the predominantly moslem Northern Nigeria a portion of the exchanges which took place between us on the pages of the journal of ideas, TRANSITION, taking that exchange out of its immediate context? In that specially selected part of your own response, you accused me of being a hater of Islam, this being published at the very time when I had come to the defence of Salman Rushdie and condemned, as murderous incitement, the fatwa placed on his head by the Ayatollah Khomeini. You knew damned well that after my defence of Salman Rushdie, religious extremists in that part of Nigeria (including some university student fundamentalists) had demonstrated in the streets of Zaria and Kaduna, carrying placards with slogans reading DEATH TO WOLE SOYINKA. Several had written to Nigerian newspapers that a fatwa be placed on my head in turn. You picked that time to publish, in a highly charged religious atmosphere, a portion of an intellectual exchange that was taking place in the United States. The account of your response to the infantida/fatwa comment from the floor in Philadelphia is therefore one that is totally in consonance with the obvious but unpronounced jihad that you have launched against the creator of WONDERS OF THE AFRICAN WORLD. Just what kind of a scholar do you claim to be, really? Since you were so eager to shed crocodile tears on behalf of Nigerians who were deprived of their place in the cultural limelight of television - they of course needed this cultural exposure to enable them survive Sani Abacha’s terror - let me simply offer you a Nigerian proverb: please do not dye your mourning weeds deeper than the indigo of the bereaved. We, the bereaved, knew where the rain was beating us in Abacha’s time, and we did not then inhabit a world of wonders but a mundane environment of horrendous realities. Stirring up murky waters I began the preceding portion by inviting you to truthfully demand of yourself just what politics you truly believe in - I have even more urgent reasons than WONDERS to invite you onto this path of self-interrogation, since you are determined to make a habit of fishing in troubled waters. Your latest adventurism is both typical and instructive: just when Nigerians appear to be groping fitfully along the road to some potential mending, a state within that nation (since followed by two more) declared itself a theocratic state and imposed the sharia as the official law of that state. Now, this was again the moment that you considered most appropriate to publish, in our local journals, a two-part article extolling the tolerance and secular virtues of the religion of Islam over that of Christianity, and debunking the “secular” claims of western democracy. Let me rush to state quite clearly that the issue is not whether you are right or wrong. I hold no brief for the claims of western democracy or Christian or Islamic tolerance, although I cannot resist warning you not to expose your flanks so masochistically by the carefully selective illustrations that you permitted to buttress your thesis! A primary schoolboy can make mincemeat of such gratuitous selectiveness in mere minutes, so will the women of Afghanistan, or the Ba’hai of Iran. I merely ask myself, as other Nigerians have done - why has Ali Mazrui picked this moment to dabble in Nigerian affairs, and in this manner? This is my personal constituency, my troubled, fragile and frustrating constitutency and I find myself obliged to demand of you - what really goes on in Ali Mazrui’s mind? Now of course, it is all cleverly done. By now we do know the modus operandi of Ali Mazruish incursions into the politics of African cultures and religions. Take issues with him over this dangerous intervention and of course you are labelled, with impeccable logic, a defender of Judeo-Christian, European values, and a hater of Arabs and Islam alike. Cunning gamester that you are, you pretend that the issue of liberty of thought and the tolerance virtues of a secular ideal are posed exclusively between the Islamic world and the Christian west. Conveniently forgotten is the famous “triple heritage” and thus, the profound and antecedent question: what of the tolerance virtues of precedent African religions and religions over which both Islam and Christianity contemptuously trampled? How does the uncorrupted indigenous spirituality view the political intrusion of religion into secular life? The trouble with scholarly lip service is that once it is paid, its implications in real life are forgotten. In this case we have a structural ploy that never really took hold of your mind but served merely to erect a systemic framework for the seduction of the unwary. I shall be dealing at greater length - this time, openly - with your essay, but within the Nigerian media on which you chose to inflict it. Suffice it to advise at this point - and to implore your internet family to caution you - that you should tread very gingerly in this explosive situation that may actually signal the disintegration of the nation still known as Nigeria. Secure in this “hypocritically secular,” deeply flawed democratic environment in which however you are not at risk for any infractions of the sharia, such as wine-tippling with the rest of us, it is perhaps beneath you to empathise with those who face the dehumanising consequences of the theocratic insanity going on in other places. In Zamfara state for instance - just a little taste of actualities - a local chieftain has given all the women in his local government three months to get married or else! - all in the name of sharia’s moral requirements. This is therefore not an academic exercise; it is an issue of human dignity, respect for individual choice, and even, as you know very well - a life and death issue in many parts of the world. It transcends the presumed “witticism” that is contained in throwaways such as your favourite (and frankly now boring) remark that no presidential candidate in the United States has ever presented an Islamic spouse - proof of course that the western secular state is hypocritical in its claims to tolerance. And you accuse Skip Gates of sophomoric humour? “Irrepressible boy,” “mischievous boy” - I find these condescending expressions of a cultivated geriatricism in addressing a colleague rude and offensive. They fail in their attempt to be patronising because they are signs of a lack of confidence in the claimed objectivity of your position. And they suit you ill as you have yourself a penchant for the very kind of “jokes” that supposedly make Skip Gates deserving of such responses. (I refer you to your article in Nigeria’s Tempo and other public performances of yours at which I have been present.) Why don’t you simply try locking up Bill Clinton with an attractive Islamic female and see what happens - oh yes, I could not resist that either! This level of reductionist games may go down very well in the populist game of the western put-down - we all indulge in it from time to time, it is known as playing to the gallery and sometimes it helps to lighten the burden of the real issues that weigh down our immediate existence, and our impotence in dealing with the real causes. I only ask you to try and be more serious when you wade into the crisis of secularism and theocracy in volatile nations like Nigeria. If you cannot help with the problem, kindly do not trivialise it. More of this later however, and in the appropriate place. Your profession of love for Black Americans makes one begin to understand why you cannot begin to understand Skip Gates’ protestation of “tough love” for one’s community, close or extended. Of course you are probably more acculturated here now than many of us are, those of us for whom this remains a strange, outer- space society in which everybody “loves” everybody else, including the ones they gun down the next moment, where entertainers bounce onto the stage with that opening embrace for all of the teeming, faceless audience – “I love y’all” - and conclude on the same refrain. You must forgive me therefore if I find the invocation of “love” nauseating. I find it yet another department of the competitive debasement of language in (mostly) white American society. Do you really LOVE all of Black America, Mazrui? Is it the concept, the culture, the people, the politics or what? Has it anything to do with what values they represent? Do you LUR-UR-URVE the Kweisi Mfumes same as the Carole Mosely-Browns? Congressman Donald Payne same as - who was that President of the Baptist Convention who took Abacha’s money but found the Nigerian gods of Apportionment waiting to serve for him back home? Love Randall Robinson same as the Idi Amin-loving and Abacha-loving Roy Innis? Congreswoman Maxime Waters same as Congressman Donald Jefferson? Ambassador Walter Carrington same as Keith Richburg? The Congress of Black Mayors same as the Association of Black Publishers? I have of course deliberately utilised here the subjective parameters of a Nigerian from that nation’s recent travails. I doubt very much if a Nigerian would readily spread the same accommodating cloak of love as you appear capable of materialising from the permissiveness of your personal computer. Enough please, of this “I am much more prepared to criticize the West than you are” credentials! If you must go Shakespearian, do avoid the Coriolanus syndrome, the competitive display of the wounds of confrontation with the enemy. Criticism has the same texture as love. There are criticisms that merely play to the gallery but also criticisms of conviction and action. At the very beginning of the sixties (and much, much earlier for others) some of us, barely out of college, were already in the United States, seeking out our black artist kinfolk embattled for their rights and dignity to demand what help we could offer in their liberation struggle - Ed Bullins, Ernie Maclintock, Imamu Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, Ethelridge Knight and others. Make enquiries today in Nigeria and discover which pioneers from which university first injected Black American literature and history - including the history of the Nation of Islam and the Black liberation movement - into our colonial university curriculum. You may then begin to understand how the political and cultural bond has been manifested since those turbulent days till the present, with all its passages of mutual criticism, fall-outs but always - solidarity. Go through the pages of TRANSITION and tell me what other journal on the African continent denounced Governor Rockefeller to the world for his crime against humanity during the Attica riots. Find out how TRANSITION lost its sponsorship from an American Foundation of some convoluted origin - but of course you are already aware of that history. (Skip Gates, incidentally, was part of that history. Still is.) This is the nature of engagement that I understand as “love,” meaningful love, critical love, creative love, “tough love,” very different from marshmallow love that turns the object of love into a namby-pamby, lacking in resilience, a hibernating mole incapable of sustaining the searchlight of truth, or simply unpalatable ideas. The African America that you speak of needs less and less of that kind of love. And the African continent is much better off with none. Of course there is also the cobra love, but I believe that Skip Gates is perfectly capable of deciding what value to place on any protestations of love that his series have generated from many quarters. “Since I am myself descended from both slave owners and slaves.....” A-ah! Is this perhaps where we shall find the critical clue to your hidden angst, the genie in the bottle that periodically forces itself out? Others, like myself, have attempted to maintain a delicate silence over this - not that it is any secret - but I am glad that the “outing” has been done by you in this specific context. Of course, you knew that it was bound to happen sooner or later, and your preemptive throwaway is quite in character. I am certain that, as you acquire greater self-confidence and internal peace, you will take us into the fullest dimensions of “slave owning” by your illustrious family. For now, I only wish to propose that, in many of your statements and much of your public conduct, this Mazrui is ingeniously but compulsively attempting to deflect a background of racial guilt. You are playing a game of transpositions, foisting on others a typology that derives from a lineage history that you wish to exorcise. Yes, I agree with your sociological observation: “the lineage system in Zanzibar...does permit people to continue to be Arab or Persian generations after their Arab or Persian forebears.” What choice, within this permissive lineage usage, has Ali Mazrui truthfully made, and does it matter in this discourse? Is he at peace with that choice? What we, black Africans with no hang ups in this respect must do to help you find peace, is to constantly reassure you that we do not hold you responsible for the sins of your forebears. That your ancestors did enrich themselves in the enslavement and merchandising of black peoples does not detract from your credentials as a human being and a credible and quite fascinating scholar (I really should interject some lur-urve at this stage, even of the cobra kind!). So let me offer you, privately - later, I shall also do so publicly - full absolution, asking in return only that you now conduct himself as befits a true African elder. Avoid, as another saying goes, the conduct of an elder who “takes his tongue to lick his plate clean after a feast, then thinks he can summon a child to bring him his walking stick, claiming the authority of an elder.” Do stop and take a deep breath, Professor Ali Mazrui. Dry off the phony lather of race indignation. Our continent is burning. Its humanity is daily impoverished by bad or indifferent leadership, its cultures and communities devastated by AIDS. Our peoples could do with a tenth of the energy you have devoted to spreading the gospel of hate against an intellectual colleague and organizing lynch mobs that are reminiscent of the very racial conduct you claim to condemn. We all age, our acuity of judgement loses its edge, our capabilities diminish, but there is no need to create for ourselves an old age crisis. If we can no longer be productive, or be combative in truly worthy causes, let us at least try not to miseducate those who follow us, and endeavour to cultivate the art of ageing gracefully.
  15. I have came with an idea of putting up some scholarly debates that are happening of happened over the past few year and then contribute of what we think of it. The first debate is about a TV series called The Wonders of the African World which is many of you may have watched. by an African American called Henry Lewis Gates Junior who is a History lecturer at Harvard. In the series he reports few African countries including Sudan, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya. However, this attracted criticism and counter-criticism. The first critic was Prof Ali Mazrui of Kenya. I think that is enough and I leave the rest to you by reading it. The following is Ali Mazrui’s response to the TV Series A PRELIMINARY CRITIQUE OF THE TV SERIES BY HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. Ali A. Mazrui Since I have myself done a television series about Africa, perhaps I should keep quiet about Skip Gates' WONDERS OF THE AFRICAN WORLD especially since I agreed to write a blurb for his companion book. I saw the book as a special "African- American view of Africa." But I had not seen the TV series when I wrote the blurb for the book. In any case Skip is a friend with whom I have profound disagreements. I believe the TV series is more divisive than the book. The first TV episode sings the glories of ancient Nubia (understandably) but at the expense of dis-Africanizing ancient Egypt. On the evidence of a European guide, Gates allows ancient Egyptians to become racist whites trampling underfoot Blacks from Upper Nile. Are ancient Egyptians no longer Africans? The second episode of the TV series on the Swahili supremely ignores the scholarly Swahili experts on the Swahili people. He interviews none on camera. Instead Gates decides to confront either carefully chosen or randomly selected members of the Swahili community with racial- questions which were abstracted from survey-forms of North American opinion polls. The program is obsessed with RACE in American terms. Did the people Gates was interviewing have the remotest idea what he was really talking about? What is more, his translator seems determined to give the worst possible interpretation of what was being said by interviewees in a place like Lamu. Who is the best authority on Muslim atrocities in Zanzibar? Well, of course a Christian missionary priest in Zanzibar! Gates does not find it necessary to balance the testimony of such a biased witness with anything else. Any journalist worth his salt would have done better than Gates! I thought that in episode three, which concerned the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Gates would at last regard the West and the white man as relevant actors in the African tragedy. Before seeing the episode I said to a colleague in Ohio that surely Gates could not deal with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade without regarding the West and the white man as crucial! Boy! Was I wrong? Gates manages to make an African to say that without the participation of Africans there would have been no slave trade! How naive about power can we get? Without the involvement of Africans, there would have been no colonialism either. Without the involvement of Africans, there would have been no apartheid. Without the involvement of African Americans, there would have been no segregationist order in the Old South. Without Jewish capital, there would have been less trans-Atlantic slave trade. Why did Gates pick on the Asante (Ashanti) as collaborators in the trans- Atlantic slave-trade and never mention European Jews at all as collaborators in the slave-trade? (Leonard Jeffreys paid a price for involving the Jews in the trade, but will Gates pay a price for involving the Asante?) I was so afraid that Gates' fourth program would be insulting to Ethiopia that I was relieved that it was merely disrespectful. I wished he was more politely dressed when he was granted an audience to a major religious leader. I wished he kept his sarcasm about the authenticity of the Covenant in check. I wished he did not make as many snide remarks which trivialized other people's values. And I wished viewers were not kept informed on camera as to how many car breakdowns he had had. Surely he had better footage of African scenes! His fifth programme on Timbuktu returned to the issue of Africans enslaving each other. Gates seemed incapable of glorifying Africa without demonizing it in the second breath. Mali and Benin, countries of great "ancient" kings, were also countries of "contemporary" slavery. Gates refused to listen when he was told that the new "slave" could disobey his master, and was free to take autonomous employment. Gates was given this information and chose not to pursue it. Was it really a case of slavery? In this fifth episode Gates chose to denounce "the barbarity of female circumcision." And yet the institution had just been mentioned in passing. There was no attempt to introduce the viewer as to why millions of Africans belonged to this culture of female circumcision in the first place. Africans were not, after all, innate barbarians. So why had this tradition survived for so long? The institution was mentioned as a throw-away "play to the Western feminist gallery" (I am myself opposed to female circumcision, but I do not call its practitioners barbarians). His sixth episode on Southern Africa was to be the least upsetting. Gates did try to capture the glories of pre-colonial Southern Africa and did pose some of the challenges of the post-colonial and post-apartheid eras. But even this sixth program was more of a tourist travelogue than a serious portrayal of a people. It is hard to believe that such a TV series was the product of such a brilliant mind! These are my first reactions. If I can bear to view the series again, perhaps I should give it a second chance! But I fear that we have been let down badly.